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5 Steps to Decrease Your Risk for Breast Cancer

Every year, thousands of women hear the frightening words: “You have breast cancer.” Now here are some encouraging words: You might be able to lower your risk for this disease by following some smart lifestyle strategies.

Does it seem like breast cancer is in the news just about every day? Need helping sorting out the facts? Well, it’s true that breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among American women. And, unfortunately, some risks for this disease cannot be changed.

For one thing, you’re more likely to develop it as you get older. In fact, women older than age 50 make up most advanced breast cancer cases. Those whose mothers, sisters, or daughters have had breast cancer also face a higher risk.

Ethnicity also plays a role. For example, breast cancer develops more often in Caucasian women than in African-American women, but risk of dying from breast cancer is higher for African-American women.

What You Can Do
You may be able to change some other risk factors:

  1. Scale back. Obese women are more apt to get breast cancer, while lean women enjoy a lower risk.
  2. Stay on the move. Studies indicate there is  a lower rate of breast cancer in women who exercise.
  3. Don’t tip your glass too often. Having one to two alcoholic drinks a day can increase your risk.
  4. Clear the smoke away. In a study of more than 73,000 women, the rate of breast cancer among current smokers was about 24 percent higher than in nonsmokers. Wondering if it’s too late to quit? Here’s some good news: The women who had once smoked but quit reduced their risk for breast cancer by nearly half of current smokers.
  5. Cut the fat. Your risk for breast cancer rises along with the amount of fat in your diet. Limiting fat, especially saturated fat, may curb your risk.

Get Your Mammogram and Know Your Breasts
When breast cancer does strike, it’s important to catch it in its early stages, when it’s most treatable. Mammography can help. Experts have different recommendations for mammography. Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammography screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74. Women ages 40-49 are encouraged to discuss the pros and cons of mammography with their health care provider and come to a decision together about when to start mammography screening. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms for all women starting at age 40.

The American Cancer Society also recommends a clinical breast exam (CBE), examination of breasts by a healthcare professional, every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, and every year starting at age 40.    Breast self-exam (BSE), looking at and feeling your breasts for lumps and changes, is also an option for women beginning in their 20’s.  

Talk with your doctor about your risk factors, when to start getting mammograms, and how often to get them. Also ask about clinical and self-breast examination. Women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to their health care provider. 

Sources
“Active Smoking and Breast Cancer Risk: Original Cohort Data and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of National Cancer Institute. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23449445.
“American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer.” American Cancer Society. www.cancer.org/healthy/findcancerearly/cancerscreeningguidelines/american-cancer-society-guidelines-for-the-early-detection-of-cancer .
“HHS HealthBeat: High-Fat Diet May Boost Breast Cancer Risk.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. www.healthfinder.gov/news/article/686610/high-fat-diet-may-boost-breast-cancer-risk.  

          “Breast Cancer Risk in American Women.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/probability-breast-cancer.

“Breast Cancer,” American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-risk-factors
“Breast Cancer Prevention.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/breast/HealthProfessional.
“The Relationship between Alcohol Use and Risk of Breast Cancer by Histology and Hormone Receptor Status Among Women 65-79 Years of Age.” C.I. Li et al. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14578143.
“Screening for Breast Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement.” Annals of Internal Medicine. annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=745237 .
“Understanding Breast Cancer Risk and How to Lower It.” Breastcancer.org. www.breastcancer.org/risk/understanding.jsp .