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Lower Your Risk with Early Breast Cancer Detection

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10 Ways to Fight Breast Cancer, continued

6. Get serious about exercise.

Research shows that working out boosts breast health. One reason: Extra weight can make the body produce excess estrogen, which may be why obesity is associated with breast cancer. While this connection is especially strong after menopause, "a significant risk factor for being overweight later in life is being overweight early in life, and regular exercise can help prevent that," says Dr. Winer. Physical activity can also enhance the immune system and lower levels of insulin, which has been linked to breast cancer, says Julie Gralow, MD, an associate professor of medical oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. So just how much exercise do you need? Researchers at the University of Southern California found that women who kept up a regimen of more than five hours per week of strenuous cardio (such as running or lap-swimming) from high school on -- or about 45 minutes a day -- had a 20 percent lower risk of invasive breast cancer than those who did 30 minutes or less per week. But that doesn't mean you should enter the next Ironman. "It's critical to slowly build your exercise capacity," says Dr. Gralow. For motivation, pair up with a partner (go to www.fitnessmagazine.com/teamfitness to find a buddy) or train for a local race (such as a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K run/walk -- go to www.komen.org to find a race near you).

7. Eat a balanced diet.

Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Besides keeping your weight in check -- one of the best defenses against breast cancer -- some of these foods have been linked in studies to lower breast cancer incidence. Your best bet, says Zinaman, is to fill your plate with a variety of colors, since fruits' and veggies' cancer-fighting components -- called phytochemicals (see "What Is a Phytochemical?") -- may work best when they interact with one another. Other smart moves: Consuming more salmon and fortified milk (sources of vitamin D, which may boost your defenses), as well as more healthy fats (like olive oil) and lean proteins (think chicken, fish, and beans). A Harvard study of more than 90,000 premenopausal women found a correlation between high consumption (more than one and a half servings a day) of beef, lamb, or pork and an increased risk for one type of breast cancer.

8. Breastfeed if you can.

Given its well-documented benefits for your baby, including protection from allergies and infections, you hardly need another reason to nurse. But breastfeeding, especially for one and a half to two years, may also help protect you against breast cancer, likely because it reduces your number of menstrual cycles, which is linked to lower risk. If you want to breastfeed but are having trouble, get help from an expert in your area; find one at the Web site of the International Lactation Consultant Association at www.ilca.org.

9. Reduce your exposure to environmental hazards when possible.

A recent review of studies identified 216 chemicals that cause breast tumors in animals. Of particular concern: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which can contaminate fish, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), found in smoke and soot. Experts caution that more research is needed. Still, it's a good idea to avoid PCB-contaminated fish (find local fish advisories at epa.gov) as well as tobacco smoke and charred food.

10. Be a champion for change.

More money is needed to help underprivileged women get checked and treated for breast cancer and to help researchers better understand the disease. Two ways to make a difference: Contact your elected officials to request their support for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP), which gives women access to free screenings (go to www.komen.org for information), and the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, which would increase funding for studies on the environmental causes of breast cancer (learn more at www.stopbreastcancer.org). An even easier way to help: Komen's Passionately Pink for the Cure program. Pick any day in October to donate $5 or more to the organization, which will direct the funds to awareness, free health care and research initiatives -- and wear pink to show your dedication to helping find cures for breast cancer.

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