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Breast Cancer Risks Factors - What You Can Do

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Breast Cancer Risk Factors - What You Can Do


October, 2015:
Many women call or write asking if there’s anything they can do to lower their risk of breast cancer coming back (recurring) after treatment. Here’s some information that may help you with this concern.

Most breast cancer risk factors are beyond our control. There’s little or nothing we can do about some risk factors, such as inheriting a gene linked to breast cancer, having a family history of breast cancer, age at first menstrual cycle, and age at menopause. But studies suggest there are other factors we can control that might help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, and these may also help reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. These involve lifestyle changes, such as making sure we get enough exercise, being more careful about what and how much we eat and drink, not using tobacco, and getting routine breast cancer screening tests.

Exercise:Evidence is growing that physical activity in the form of exercise helps reduces breast cancer risk. The main question is how much exercise is needed. In one study from the Women’s Health Initiative, as little as 1¼ to 2½ hours of brisk walking per week reduced a woman’s risk by 18%. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more. Studies of breast cancer survivors have shown that those with higher levels of physical activity after diagnosis lived longer and had less chance of the cancer coming back. And, more and more evidence suggests that being overweight or obese raises the risk for recurrence (the cancer coming back) and reduces the odds of survival for many cancers. You should strive to get to and stay at a healthy weight by eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular physical activity. Regular physical activity is an important part of good health, even if there are no weight concerns.

Nutrition:Obesity has been linked to breast cancer risk and recurrence, especially in women who have been through menopause. While there’s still controversy over whether limiting dietary fat can reduce risk, experts agree that it couldn’t hurt – and it can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight. Recent studies also suggest that a higher intake of vegetables may have a helpful effect on recurrence and survival for breast cancer. Your diet should be rich in vegetables and fruits, include dietary fiber, and have low amounts of saturated fats. Of course, this type of diet can decrease your risk of other diseases, too, including other cancers, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Alcohol:Several studies show that drinking alcohol is linked to increased risk of breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. But only a few studies have looked at alcohol use in breast cancer survivors and, so far, findings vary. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to 1 alcoholic drink a day.

Smoking:In recent years, studies have found that long-term heavy smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Some studies have found that the risk is highest in certain groups, such as women who started smoking before they had their first child. No clear links have yet been made between tobacco use and breast cancer recurrence. We do know that smoking affects overall health and increases the risk for many other cancers, as well as the risk of heart disease and stroke. The best advice: Quit smoking now.

Screening:Regular screening for breast cancer is one of our best weapons against this disease. The American Cancer Society says that all women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away. Women between ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years. All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening.

Women who have a personal or family history of breast cancer should speak to a doctor about when and how often to be screened. They should also ask whether screening with an MRI along with their regular mammograms would be best for them.

Para solicitar información en español, llame al 1-800-227-2345. Un especialista en información sobre el cáncer le asistirá en español.

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