Mammography remains the most effective way to catch breast cancer. But how can a health-conscious woman keep from getting the disease? The most important risk factors—genetics, age, race, reproductive history—can’t be changed. But there are several things you can do to reduce your risk:
• Don’t smoke: Numerous studies show that tobacco increases the chance of breast cancer. A 2002 study by researchers at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine found that the more cigarettes women smoked and the longer they kept up the habit, the higher their risk of developing the disease was.
• Cut back on alcohol: Just two drinks of alcohol a day have been shown to significantly increase breast cancer risk, according to multiple studies.
• Maintain a healthy weight: Women who are overweight or obese after menopause are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. A 2002 study by the American Cancer Society estimated that 30 percent to 50 percent of breast cancer deaths among postmenopausal women in the United States may be attributed to obesity.
• Exercise regularly: In a 2003 study from the national Women’s Health Initiative, women who walked briskly for a couple of hours every week had an 18 percent lower risk of breast cancer than sedentary women. Those who got more than 10 hours of vigorous exercise each week lowered their risk by about 22 percent.
• Reduce estrogen exposure: Avoid hormone replacement therapy. If you’re bothered by menopausal symptoms, consider taking black cohosh, an herbal remedy. In a 2007 epidemiological study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that women who had taken black cohosh supplements had a 61 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than other women.
• Eat well: Aim for a mostly plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Be sure to eat some of the cancer-fighting foods listed on the next page.