Risk Management

What you can do to beat the breast-cancer odds

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your health.

That’s why knowing your personal risk factors for breast cancer is so valuable.

An amazing 97 percent of women survive if it is caught in the early stages.

You can’t change your genetics or family history, but there are some ways you can lower your chances of getting the disease.

The following list of risk factors is familiar, but knowing just how each can improve your odds of preventing or beating breast cancer can help motivate you to make important lifestyle changes.


Women who are overweight produce extra estrogen, and high levels of hormones are linked to cancer-cell growth.

A review of data from a study of Long Island women ages 20 to 98, about half of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, revealed that the participants who gained a significant amount of weight after age 20 were more likely to develop the disease than those whose weight remained fairly stable.

The women who gained more than 33 pounds throughout adulthood had a 60 percent greater risk than their peers who remained within six or seven pounds of their weight at age 20.

The greatest risk seemed to come from weight gain after age 50.

Compared with women who kept their weight in check, those who put on 25 pounds or more were 62 percent more likely to develop breast cancer.


Women who eat a low-fat diet may reduce their risk of breast cancer and even a recurrence of the disease.

Observations of breast-cancer rates in countries where women consume a low-fat diet have some researchers theorizing a link between diet and cancer.

However, some experts think the study results may be influenced by the participants’ overall health habits, which may also include regular exercise, no smoking and a lower consumption of alcohol.

Still, with what we know about the health benefits of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy products, it makes sense to cut fat from your diet.


Women who smoke have an increased risk of breast cancer, according to a survey of 116,544 retired female teachers in California.

The women, about half of whom were pre-menopausal, were asked about their smoking history.

In a follow-up five years later, the women who were still smoking were 32 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who’d never smoked.

However, former smokers who quit did not have significantly higher risk than those who had never smoked.

Not surprisingly, the risk of breast cancer rose significantly with the number of years and the number of cigarettes.


Physical activity, even when begun later in life, reduces overall breast-cancer risk by 20 percent, according to a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

In addition, the Harvard Medical School Nurses’ Health Study revealed that walking just one or more hours per week may improve survival in women who already have breast cancer.

Plus, regular exercise helps women maintain a healthy weight, which keeps estrogen levels in check.

While the reasons for the increase in survival with exercise remain unclear, doctors credit lower levels of growth-stimulating ovarian hormones, such as estrogen, in the bloodstream. Physical activity has already been shown to result in lower levels of circulating ovarian hormones.

©2006 Jazzercise Inc.
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