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Healthy habits that guard against breast cancer

By Richard N. Waldman, MD
President, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

We know that one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. And while we can’t predict who those women will be, research has shown that certain lifestyle habits play a significant role in lowering breast cancer risk. Help protect yourself against breast cancer by:

Maintaining a healthy weight. Women who gain excess weight, especially after menopause, are more prone to breast cancer. Extra body fat produces estrogen, which can fuel certain cancers, such as some breast and endometrial cancers. Find your ideal body mass index (BMI)—a measure of body fat in comparison to your height and weight—at www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi.

Being active. Women who exercise regularly have a 20–30 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. Physical activity keeps weight in check and may have a positive effect on harmful factors that can raise the risk of cancer, such as inflammation and metabolic hormones.

Thirty minutes of walking each day is a good start and may be enough to provide some protection. As your strength and stamina increase, add more time, intensity, and variety to your workout schedule.

Drinking less. Despite the often-touted cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, drinking has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. If you choose to drink, limit it to one drink or less per day. And avoid supersizing—remember that 5 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of hard liquor, or one 12-oz. beer equals one drink.

Eating Healthier. Aim to eat a balanced diet rich in a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lowfat dairy, and lean protein. By filling your plate with healthy whole foods, you have less room for foods that are high in fat, sodium, and processed sugar.

Substances found in healthy foods, including omega-3 fatty acids (in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and lake trout) and vitamin D (in fish and fortified milk and dairy products, cereals, and juices), may also offer some protection against breast cancer.

The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that almost 40 percent of breast cancer cases in the US—roughly 70,000 cases a year—could be prevented if women stayed within a healthy BMI range, exercised more, and cut down the amount of alcohol they consumed. The good news is that every woman has control over all of these factors.

During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, make a conscious effort to understand the habits that may raise your risk and then try your best to reduce it.

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