Until doctors can stamp out the disease, women can take an active role in preventing breast cancer. "There are a lot of things you can do in terms of lifestyle — diet, exercise, not smoking, getting regular screening and a mammogram every year after age 40," says Dr. Harry Bear of VCU Medical Center.
In a study at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, researchers found that even a moderate amount of weight loss can significantly reduce levels of circulating estrogens that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The findings in the study apply to overweight or obese women who are not taking hormone-replacement therapy. Epidemiologists have noted a link between obesity and an increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. A relationship between body fat and estrogen production is thought to contribute to this risk.
In their study, researchers found that losing as little as 5 percent of one's total body weight had a beneficial impact on hormone levels, and the effect increased with the amount of weight lost. That could cut the risk for the most common, estrogen-sensitive breast cancers by 25 to 50 percent.
Foods that increase estrogen in the body can also increase the risk of breast cancer. "Foods that are estrogenic like soy are not advised for patients with breast cancer," says Dr. Ellen Shaw de Paredes of the Paredes Institute for Womens Imaging. "Alcohol increases the risk if you have more than three drinks a week. A high-fat diet and post-menopausal weight gain can also increase the risk.