How to Cut Your Breast Cancer Risk at Any Age: A Decade-by-Decade Guide

4. Stay active.
Studies suggest that exercising three to four hours per week at moderate or vigorous levels can reduce your risk of breast cancer by about 20%. “We found in the Womens Health Initiative that there was a benefit to exercising in middle to late years even in women who were inactive when young,” says Dr. McTiernan.

And you dont have to be Dara Torres to reap the benefits: Activities like brisk walking, biking, dancing, or any exercise that raises your heart rate above its baseline level for at least 20 minutes and makes you sweat are beneficial.

5. Consider chemoprevention.
If youre at high risk of getting breast cancer, ask your doctor whether youre a good candidate for chemoprevention. Tamoxifen is approved for use in premenopausal women at high risk of developing breast cancer. “While the average woman should not take a drug to reduce the risk of breast cancer," explains Julie R. Gralow, MD, the director of breast medical oncology at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, "I would consider them for a woman whos had a biopsy that shows an increased risk for development of cancer."


Avoid unnecessary exposure to cancer-causing substances.
Radiation and some chemicals are known to cause cancer, says Dr. McTiernan. “Make sure that any physician who orders an X-ray for you, especially high dose ones like CT scans, knows how many previous X-rays you have had,” advises Dr. McTiernan. “If it is not an emergency situation, ask if there is an alternative examination that would suit your situation, such as an ultrasound or MRI, neither of which involves radiation." (Your doctor can help you weigh the relative risk of momentary exposure to radiation versus not having an X-ray or CT scan that may be medically necessary.)

“Also,” adds Dr. McTiernan, “if you work in an industry or occupation where you are exposed to radiation or chemicals, be very careful to follow the regulations of your company and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

Scientists have identified more than 200 potential breast carcinogens. Learn more about them in this broad analysis of existing research from the American Cancer Society.

As a basic rule of thumb, when faced with food, cosmetics, or household products that are loaded with preservatives or other artificial substances, opt when possible for products containing mostly natural ingredients.

Breast cancer experts also advise that you educate yourself about the reality behind all those breast cancer myths out there.

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Lead writer: Anne Marie O’Connor
Last Updated: September 17, 2008

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