As reported by The Olympian, September 5, 2008.

Take Charge of Your Breast Health: The Facts You Need to Know and a Plan of Action

There's a new movement in breast cancer, and the focus is on survivorship.

"Our detection tools have gotten so good that many cases are being caught in the most treatable stages, so the survival rate is very high," says Dr. Maura Dickler, assistant professor of medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

That's big news - and it's partly thanks to the fact that experts understand more than ever before what raises your breast cancer risk and what all women can do to help beat the odds.

"Just knowing you have certain risk factors ups the chances of catching cancer early if you're more vigilant about screenings," says Dr. Therese Beavers, medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. And there are risks you can control.

Here are a few tools to take charge of your breast health.

Things you should do in your...


  • Exercise! A landmark study found that women who worked out as young adults had a 23 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Strenuous is best, but anything that makes you break a sweat helps.
  • Limit your radiation exposure. Ask if you can get an MRI or ultrasound instead of an X-ray or CT scan, an X-ray technique that uses particularly high levels of radiation.
  • Cut back on red meat. Eating three or more servings a week has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Limit each serving to 4 ounces or less (about the size of your palm).


  • Breastfeed. You're not producing as much estrogen, which reduces your risk, says Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut.
  • Lose the baby weight. Women who gained more than 36 pounds while pregnant and didn't lose it were 60 percent more likely to develop breast cancer after menopause, say researchers at Georgetown University.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol. Just 4 ounces a day (about half a glass) can raise your risk 9 percent. Cap it at three drinks a week; if you're high-risk, ask your doctor if you should abstain altogether.
  • Go digital. Starting at 40, all women need a mammogram yearly. If you're under 50 or have dense breasts, get a digital one if possible (it's slightly more accurate than traditional X-rays).
  • Keep moving. Studies show that women who exercise regularly throughout their lives lower their breast cancer risk. Exercise may help suppress excess estrogen, which can fuel tumor growth.
  • Avoid pesticides. Some can mimic estrogen and you never know how much you absorb. Avoid herbicides when gardening. If you need an exterminator, pick one that uses all-natural products.

50s and 60s

  • Watch the scale. Women who gained 22 pounds or more after menopause were about 20 percent more likely to develop breast cancer. Those who shed 22 pounds or more cut their risk by 57 percent.
  • Skip hormone therapy if you're 60 or over. While research suggests that brief stints on hormone therapy, or HT, to relieve menopausal symptoms are OK in younger women, it's best to avoid it past age 60.
  • Don't miss a year of getting a mammogram. Risk goes up as you age - more than 75 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50. Yet ironically, we tend to get less vigilant as we get older.

Things You May Not Know

  • Even if you have no family history, you can't be complacent. "The fact is, only 10 percent of breast cancers are inherited," Runowicz says.
  • Oral contraceptives may slightly raise your risk of breast cancer, but they may protect against ovarian, endometrial and colorectal cancers. Any increased risk of breast cancer disappears within five years after you stop taking them.
  • HT isn't totally taboo. If women in their 40s and 50s have serious menopausal symptoms - frequent hot flashes, insomnia - that severely diminish their quality of life, they can consider using hormone therapy "at the minimum effective dose for the shortest duration," says Dr. Debbie Saslow of the American Cancer Society.