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  health > cancer > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Preventing breast cancer

October 26, 1999
Web posted at: 5:28 PM EDT (2128 GMT)

In this story:

Exercise for prevention

Nutrition for prevention

Get examined


By Miriam Nelson, Ph.D.

(WebMD) -- Over the past six years, a lot has changed for Neli Stascausky. Having survived breast cancer, the 59-year-old Northern Californian is now enrolled in a study that requires her to exercise regularly and abide by a strict diet, which includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Stascausky admits that the change was difficult at first. She grew up in Argentina, where meat is a staple; she was accustomed to eating beef on a regular basis. She says being part of the study has helped her stick to her diet and may prevent breast cancer from recurring.

Age, sex and family history can all influence a person's risk of developing breast cancer. But of all the risk factors, exercise and diet are the most within your control.

Exercise for prevention

Research is showing that regular exercise helps to prevent many chronic diseases, among them various types of cancer -- including breast cancer. One study from Norway published in a 1997 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine found that women who exercised regularly were 37 percent less likely to develop breast cancer compared with sedentary women, even though the women had the same body weight and body composition.

Regular exercise also helps women to maintain their weight, and this plays a significant role in reducing breast cancer risk. A study by the National Cancer Institute found that 40- to 50-year-old overweight women had twice the risk of developing breast cancer as women who were not overweight.

To reap the benefits of exercise, try the following:

  • Get 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise -- running, brisk walking or biking -- at least five days a week.

  • Strength train on nonconsecutive days, two to three times a week. Strength training helps to maintain weight by increasing metabolism, and provides many other health benefits, such as helping to prevent osteoporosis.

  • Stretch daily. Stretching helps to maintain flexibility and decrease the risk of injury.

Nutrition for prevention

Good nutrition, like exercise, provides many benefits to your mind and body. And making changes in your diet may make a difference in preventing breast cancer.

Though study results have been conflicting, doctors generally agree that eating more fruits and vegetables may decrease breast cancer risk. Aim to get at least five servings a day. Although this may sound like a lot, keep in mind what a serving is:

  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots or broccoli

  • 1 cup raw leafy greens

  • A small banana or apple

  • 1/2 cup chopped strawberries

  • 3/4 cup fruit juice

Also, eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in fat, particularly saturated fat. High-fiber foods may help to decrease your risk for breast cancer and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Good sources of dietary fiber include oats, bran, beans, grapefruit and apples.

Studies have shown that too much fat in your diet increases the risk of breast cancer. In addition, fat increases your risk for obesity, which also is associated with greater risk of breast cancer.

Limiting alcohol consumption to fewer than two drinks per day is also a good idea. Research suggests that consuming two to five alcoholic drinks per day may increase your risk by up to 40 percent.

Get examined

While regular exercise and a good diet can go a long way toward reducing your risk for breast cancer, nothing can replace regular medical checkups, which can bolster your prevention strategy as well as detect the disease early.

Doing breast self-exams, at the same time each month after the age of 20, is also important. If you are between the ages of 20 and 39, you should also have your physician do a breast exam once every three years. According to the National Cancer Institute, women ages 40 and older should have a mammogram every one to two years. The institute recommends that women who are at particularly high risk for breast cancer consult their physician on how often they should have a mammogram. Remember: Early detection of breast cancer can save lives.

Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

Breast cancer awareness month
Screening for breast cancer
Principles of cancer prevention

National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations
National Cancer Institute
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