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Tips for avoiding breast cancer

If there was a surefire way of preventing breast cancer, no doubt every woman would be doing it. Unfortunately there isn't, and until scientists come up with conclusive evidence on how to remove any chance of developing this awful disease, all we can do is try to reduce our risk. If making some fairly easy lifestyle changes can make a difference, surely they're worth a try?
THINGS YoU CAN CoNTRoL
Stop Smoking
Smoking is bad for you, full-stop. Here's another reason why you should consider giving up - it's also a risk factor in developing breast cancer. Plus, smoking can also increase complications from breast cancer treatment, including making it more difficult to heal after surgery.
Get more exercise
It really is worth making the effort to move more. Research shows that exercising for four to five hours a week may lower the risk of breast cancer. And over time, exercising may help further by lowering the levels of the hormone oestrogen in your body. High levels of oestrogen may be associated with breast cancer (see number four).
oaintain a healthy weight
Women who are overweight have an increased risk of getting breast cancer after menopause. And carrying around excess kilos can increase the risk of breast cancer returning if you've already had the disease before. It's thought that being overweight ups your chances of getting breast cancer for two reasons - one, because you tend to exercise less and eat fattier foods that aren't good for your health, and two, because fat cells can make extra oestrogen, which may stimulate breast cell growth.
Reduce your exposure to oestrogen
It's thought prolonged exposure to the female hormone oestrogen may increase your chance of developing breast cancer because it can stimulate cells in the breast to grow and become cancerous. To reduce the amount of oestrogen in your diet and environment, try:
  • Losing weight.
  • Cutting down on alcohol. Studies have shown that drinking alcohol appears to raise hormone levels, specially in postmenopausal women.
  • Limiting the amount of red meat and animal fats you eat, as these can contain hormones that affect your body's own hormone levels.
  • To avoid microwaving foods in plastic containers. Plastic contains xenoestrogens (foreign oestrogens) which researchers believe may disrupt your hormone levels and leave you more vulnerable to cancer.
  • Breastfeeding for as long as possible. Not only is it good for your baby, but it can keep your oestrogen levels down.
Eat a nutritious diet
While there's no definitive evidence that eating certain foods reduces your risk of developing breast cancer, doctors know that good nutrition increases your overall wellness and may generally reduce the risk of getting degenerative diseases like cancer. Some studies show a diet that is low in fat may reduce the risk of breast cancer, perhaps because it helps you to maintain a healthy weight. You should be eating plenty of fruit and vegetables - at least five servings a day - plus whole grains and pulses, good quality protein and essential fatty acids such as omega 3 (found in oily fish). Avoid processed, fatty and sugary foods and dishes that have been deep-fried, smoked or burned during cooking.
Scientists investigating breast cancer say being socially isolated may contribute to the growth of tumours. When researchers from the University of Chicago studied mice that were genetically predisposed to developing breast cancer, they found that those kept in isolation had bigger tumours than those which were surrounded by other mice. The isolated mice also had higher levels of stress hormones, backing up other studies that suggest stress may play a role in causing cancer. The scientists say that being able to identify people who are living in at-risk environments will also help with breast cancer prevention.
THINGS YoU CAN'T CoNTRoL
Age
Your risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older. Up until you reach the age of 40, your risk is 1 in 229. Between 40 and 59, it goes up to 1 in 24, and from the age of 60 to 79, it increases to 1 in 13.
Family history
Having close family members who've had breast cancer does increase your risk of getting it too - your chances double if your mum or a sister has had it. But just because a family member had breast cancer doesn't mean you will get it, and you can still get it if there is no family history.
oenstrual history
You can't control the amount of oestrogen your body will produce during your lifetime. If your periods started when you were very young (before 12) or you experienced late menopause (after 55) - or both - it means your body has had longer exposure to oestrogen and other hormones produced by your ovaries, and this may increase your breast cancer risk.
Breast density
According to research, women who have dense breasts (containing more glandular and connective tissue) are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than women whose breasts are mainly made up of fatty tissue. It's thought this is partly due to the fact that breast cancer can be harder to spot in dense breasts because, in a mammogram, it looks a lot like glandular tissue. However, a Canadian study has found that not only may dense tissue hide cancers, but women who had the densest breasts were five times more likely to get breast cancer.
Age of pregnancy
Women who have their first full-term pregnancy after the age of 30, and those who have never given birth, have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who have their babies before the age of 30. This is because a full-term pregnancy, which stops your period for nine months, seems to protect against breast cancer.

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