Strategies to prevent breast cancer

In your 20s, who thinks about breast cancer? But experts say this is an ideal time to get a head start.

Cut back on alcohol and get a clinical breast exam every three years. And learn your family history. It may mean starting mammograms earlier.

"So for example if your mother had breast cancer at age 36 then you would probably start your screening mammograms at about 26 or so," said radiologist Dr. Anne Hoyt, UCLA Medical Center.

In your 30s, breast cancer rates are still relatively low. Despite all the controversy over self breast exams, Dr. Hoyt recommends women do monthly self exams.

If you have children, try to nurse for at least six months. Studies suggest estrogen reduction during this time may slightly lower your risk. And avoid eating processed meats.

"If you see a food that is cured, or smoke, or preserved like bacon or processed lunch meat avoid those nitrites," said registered dietitian, Jackie Keller.

In your 40s, one in every 70 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Schedule an annual mammogram.

And eat breast healthy foods such as flax, omega-3 fatty fish, soy, green tea and colorful fruits and veggies.

In your 50s, the risk is even higher -- 1 in 40. Maintain your ideal body weight, avoid or limit hormone replacement therapy and make sure to get enough vitamin D.

Some experts recommend as much as a 1000 IUs a day.

Most women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their 60s. Experts say continue with self exams since breasts are a lot less dense. And get moving. Studies show regular exercise can reduce breast cancer risk 20 percent.

"Adopt that healthy lifestyle make sure you're active make sure you're engaged in life and your body is a very responsive machine," said Keller.

The good new is in your 60s, breast tumors usually grow a lot slower. The bad news: at this age, a lot of women stop going to their gynecologist.

Medicare won't always cover pap smears in this age group, but experts say it's still a good idea to get regular breast and ovary clinical exams.

Web Extra Information: How to cut your breast cancer risk: A decade-by-decade guide

20s - Though it is rare (only 1 in 1,837 women in their 20's get it) most twentysomethings don't even consider their risk of breast cancer. But your twenties is the ideal time to take steps to reduce your risk of getting the disease in the future. Steps to take in your 20s include:

  • Get a clinical breast exam every three years.
  • Find out if you're at high risk - If breast cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor about whether you need stepped-up screening.
  • Drink less alcohol - Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day as alcohol use can increase your risk for breast cancer.
30s - Breast cancer rates for women in their 30s are still relatively low, but you should still monitor them for any changes and continue to implement good habits including:
  • If you have children, try to nurse them for at least six months - Some studies suggest that breast feeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk.
  • Avoid eating too much red and processed meat - Limit your intake of red meat to four ounces a day on average and avoid eating meats such as sausages and bologna. The chemicals that are used to process the meats have been found to cause several kinds of cancers.
  • If you're at a high risk of getting breast cancer, ask your doctor whether you're a good candidate for chemoprevention.
40s - Women in their 40s need to be more vigilant than ever about their breast screening as cancer rates start to increase (1 in every 70 women in her forties will be diagnosed with the disease). What to do in your 40s:
  • Schedule an annual mammogram and clinical exam, and check your own breasts.
  • Eat a healthy diet - While the relationship between diet and cancer is far from established, research suggests that a plant-based diet is associated with reduced risks for several cancers. Focus especially on eating a variety of brightly colored fruits and veggies, as these contain the highest concentration of vitamins.
50s - As menopause hits, the risk of the disease is even higher (1 in 40 will get the disease in this decade) and taking care of your health becomes more important than ever. Steps to take include:
  • Maintain your body weight, or lose weight if you're overweight - Research has shown that being overweight or obese (especially if you're past menopause) increases your risk, especially if you put the weight on as an adult.
  • Avoid or limit hormone replacement therapy which increases your breast cancer risks.
  • Make sure to get enough vitamin D - Though the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 400 IUs some researchers, noting the beneficial effect it has been observed to have on breast cancer risk, suggest taking 1000 IUs a day.
60s and Beyond - The average age a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer is 62 which is why women in their 60s need to maintain healthy breast habits including:
  • Track any changes in your own breasts - The older you are, the easier it is to do self breast exams because breasts are less dense.
  • Exercise regularly - Studies suggest that exercising three to four hours per week at moderate or vigorous levels can reduce your risk of breast cancer by about 20%.


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