Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women, second only to lung cancer. One in eight women is expected to develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and a recent survey by the Society for Women’s Health Research found that 22 percent of women named breast cancer as the disease they fear most. The specter of breast cancer makes it no surprise that women are eager to seek various ways to reduce their risks of developing this potentially deadly disease.
Though cancer treatments continue to evolve, there remains no cure for breast cancer or any other types of cancer. However, there are steps men and women can take to reduce their risks of developing breast cancer. In fact, the National Cancer Institute says avoiding breast cancer risk factors is the best path to prevention.
* Avoid exposure to radiation. Repeated exposure to radiation therapy used to treat illnesses like Hodgkin’s disease can increase a person’s risk of breast cancer, particularly if treatments begin at an early age.
* Keep a healthy weight. Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women. Healthy eating and exercise can help women control their weight while reducing their risks of developing breast cancer and a number of other diseases. Scientists at The Mayo Clinic believe there is a link between estrogen production in fatty breast tissue and breast cancer.
* Get your exercise. Exercising four or more hours a week can lower breast cancer risk. Exercise need not be heavy lifting at the gym. Any moderate physical activity, from cycling to walking, can be effective. Exercise decreases hormone levels in the body that can impact breast cancer risk. Some studies indicate simply walking briskly for one to three hours per week can reduce a woman’s breast cancer risk by 18 percent.
* Eat a low-fat diet. The Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study from the National Cancer Institute found that the highest rate of breast cancer reduction was among a group of women who ate a low-fat diet.
* Reduce alcohol consumption. Various studies have indicated that women who drink alcoholic beverages may develop cancer at a higher rate. Women who consume two to five drinks daily have a greater risk of developing breast cancer than those who abstain from alcohol.
* Weigh the risks of hormone replacement therapy. There are mixed reviews on hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, for postmenopausal women. There may be a link between long-term HRT and breast cancer, particularly when estrogen and progesterone are used in combination. Some doctors advise estrogen-only hormone therapy for women who have had a hysterectomy.
* Use of SERMs and aromatase inhibitors. Selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs, are drugs that act like estrogen on some bodily tissues but block the effect of estrogen on other tissues. Aromatase inhibitors decrease the amount of estrogen made by the body. Women with a high risk of breast cancer may benefit from taking a SERM or aromatase inhibitor.
* Increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Carotenoids are cancer-protective pigments found in a vast number of fruits and vegetables. Researchers at New York University found women who had higher blood carotenoid levels had a significantly smaller risk of breast cancer than women with lower levels.
* Go sparingly on antibiotics. Only take antibiotics when they are truly needed. New evidence suggests that the more often a woman takes antibiotics, the higher her breast cancer risk. A study of more than 10,000 women found that women who took antibiotics for the equivalent of about 25 prescriptions over an average of 17 years where twice as likely to develop breast cancer than women who never took the drugs.
* Breastfeed your children. Lactation can suppress ovulation and the body’s production of estrogen, which has been linked to higher levels of breast cancer. Breastfeeding may drop a woman’s breast cancer risk by 4 percent.
Although there is no cure for cancer, there are a number of different ways women can reduce their risks for breast cancer.