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From the foods to eat to the supplements to take, women shouldn't feel helpless when it comes to breast cancer. Heed these simple lifestyle and diet tips to reduce your risk.
You’ve seen the statistics: 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime, 230,000 new invasive breast cancer cases are discovered annually, and more than 39,000 women will die this year of the disease. But during this month of pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness campaigns, many health experts are focusing on another number: 38 percent. According to a sweeping 2010 report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), that’s the minimum number of cases that could be prevented if women kept their weight in check, followed a cancer preventive diet, and steered clear of certain risk-boosting compounds.
“For a long time, when people have talked about breast cancer prevention, they have focused on mammograms and other forms of early detection,” says Robert Pendergrast, MD, author of Breast Cancer: Reduce Your Risk with Foods You Love (Penstokes, 2011). “Those are important and no doubt save lives. But there are a lot of things women can do to lower their risk of ever developing it in the first place.”
Contrary to popular belief, only 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are rooted firmly in genetic abnormalities, such as mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Although other genes may also boost susceptibility, a family history hardly seals one’s fate, says Jennie Yoon Buchanan, MD, medical director of women’s imaging at Florida Hospital in Orlando. “People may be born with a set of genes, but how those genes get activated depends a lot on what you eat and how you live,” she says. Results from numerous studies suggest certain compounds in foods have the power to “turn on” or “turn off” cancer-promoting or -preventing mechanisms; and lifestyle changes can alter the amount of cancer-fueling hormones circulating in the body.
Some risk factors are, of course, beyond control: Women who start menstruating before 12 or stop later than 55 are more likely to get breast cancer. So are older women, those who never have children, those with dense breast tissue, and those who take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). And it’s likely you know someone who “did all the right things” but got sick anyway.
That said, women shouldn’t feel helpless, says Moshe Shike, MD, director of clinical nutrition for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Instead, be aware of the risk factors and proactively search for available protection, including the following choices.