Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk

Harvard Health Publications

They're hard to miss. Pink ribbons, banners, clothing, and even cookware boast the signature pink hue of breast cancer awareness. While you may not be or know anyone who is afflicted with this form of cancer, it's a disease that touches everyone's hearts.

This could be because it's not some obscure disease that affects only a handful of people around the world. No.

Breast cancer is tangible. It could easily affect your sister just as it could anybody else's. That's why prevention is so important.

While men do get this type of cancer, less than one percent according to the National Cancer Institute, over two million women are currently living with breast cancer in the United States.

Though stories of fighting the battle with cancer and winning are almost common, many women live with the disease for years before it goes into remission only to return again - and more still are victims of the disease. There is no cure for breast cancer, however, researchers are constantly learning more about ways to treat and prevent it.

There's no one big way to reduce your risk for breast cancer, but a combination of approaches could make a difference, reports the an issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch. Here are some things you can do to help limit your risk:

* Don't gain weight. Studies show that weight gain is a risk factor for breast cancer after menopause. The link is estrogen, which is believed to promote the development of breast cancer. Fat tissue converts precursors in the body into estrogen, keeping the hormone in circulation even when ovarian production stops at menopause.

* Don't drink alcohol. Women who consume even a few drinks per week raise their risk for breast cancer. Scientists aren't sure why; it may be that alcohol raises estrogen levels or interacts with carcinogens.

* Increase your activity level. Exercise may help prevent breast cancer and its recurrence in a few ways, including by keeping weight down and decreasing the amount of estrogen in breast tissue.

* Get more vitamin D. There's evidence that vitamin D helps protect against several types of cancer, including breast cancer.

* Monitor your use of hormones. Because lifetime exposure to estrogen is a risk factor for breast cancer, there's concern about women's use of birth control pills and postmenopausal hormones. Discuss your risk with your doctor before taking these.

* Know your breast density. Breast density is trumped only by age and certain gene mutations in the hierarchy of risk factors. Digital mammography has been shown to improve cancer detection in women with dense breasts.

* Chemoprevention. Taking the anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen or raloxifene may cut the incidence of breast cancer in women at increased risk for the disease.

Source: Harvard Health Publications

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