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Can I Prevent Breast Cancer? By Sucharu Chris Prakash, MD

Prakash_095_72-150x150Q: I am a healthy 50 year old woman. I do have several family members with breast cancer, and am worried that I will develop breast cancer? Is there anything I can do to reduce my chances of getting breast cancer?

A: 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. The chances go up if you have other risk factors. So, before we talk about ways to reduce risk, let us familiarize ourselves with the established risk factors for breast cancer.

Risk factors for breast cancer: (American Cancer Society)

1)Age - The risk of breast cancer goes up as you get older. About two out of three breast cancers are found in women 55 or older.

2)Family History - Women with close relatives who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease. If you have one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk is doubled.

3)Genetics – abnormal genes such as BRCA1 and2 are responsible for 5 to 10% of breast cancers.

4)Personal history of breast cancer – this makes you 3 to 4 times more likely to develop a new cancer in the other or same breast.

5) Breast changes such as ductal hyperplasia (benign) may increase risk of breast cancer.

6)Race - White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than other ethnicities. But African American women are more likely to develop aggressive and more advanced-stage breast cancer at a younger age.

7)Overweight and obese women - have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight.

8)Pregnancy (or lack of) - Women who haven’t had a full-term pregnancy or have their first child after age 30 have a higher risk of breast cancer.

9)Lack of breastfeeding - Breastfeeding can lower breast cancer risk, especially if a woman breastfeeds for longer than 1 year.

10)Menstrual history – Early menarche (younger than age 12) increases risk of breast cancer later in life. A late menopause (older than 55) also increases risk.

11)Hormone replacement therapy - Current users of HRT have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

12)Alcohol - Research consistently shows that drinking alcoholic beverages – beer, wine, and liquor – increases a woman’s risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.

13)Lack of exercise – Women who exercise regularly for 4 to 7 hours per week, have a lower risk of breast cancer.

14)Smoking – is linked to higher risk of breast cancer in young as well as postmenopausal women.

Five Ways to Lower Risk of Breast Cancer:

1)Watch your weight – If you’re already at a healthy weight, stay there. If you’re overweight, there is evidence that losing weight may lower breast cancer risk, in addition to helping your heart. Try to lose 5% to 10% of your current weight over 6 months.

2)Exercise regularly – As little as 75 to 150 minutes of brisk walking each week has been shown to lower risk.

3)Limit alcohol – Follow the American Cancer Society’s recommendation of no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. A single drink amounts to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of hard liquor.

4)Avoid or limit hormonal therapy – Hormonal therapy had long been used for night sweats, hot flashes, and other menopausal symptoms, but in 2002, researchers found that postmenopausal women who took a combination of estrogen and progestin were more likely to develop breast cancer. If you do need hormones, use the lowest dose necessary.

5)Stop smoking – this is the single most important thing you can do to improve your overall health.

By adopting the above lifestyle modifications, you would have done whatever you can, to make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible

This information is strictly an opinion of Dr Chris Prakash, and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Dr Chris Prakash is a contributing columnist, and author of eParisExtra’s “The Doctor is In” column. He is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology Paris. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Oncology and Hematology. He lives in Paris, TX with his wife and two children, and can be reached at 9037850031, or Sucharu.prakash@usoncology.com

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