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How to Fight Breast Cancer at Any Age

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How to Stay Healthy in Your 40s

Make breast screenings a must

Mammograms reduce the number of breast cancer deaths, studies show. "In general, when tumors are detected at one centimeter or less and are surgically removed, there's excellent long-term survival, virtually a cure," says diagnostic radiologist and breast-imaging specialist Robert Lapidus, MD, medical director of the Women's Imaging Centre in Lafayette, Louisiana. Although mammography remains the gold standard for screening large populations, there are other techniques, such as breast MRI and screening breast ultrasound, that may help detect tumors in their earliest stages. The National Cancer Institute recommends that women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every one to two years. Women at higher risk should talk to their doctors about starting earlier or testing more frequently.

Watch your waistline

If not for vanity, then do it for health. Piling on the pounds ups your chances of getting breast cancer. "In postmenopausal women, since the ovaries no longer make estrogen, the majority of it is produced in the fat tissue," Dr. Visvanathan explains. "That means people with a higher percentage of body fat have more estrogen in their bodies and therefore have a greater breast cancer risk."

Defat your diet

Reducing fat intake to 20 percent of calories (the USDA recommends limiting fat to 30 percent) helps regulate insulin and other hormones that may encourage tumor growth, according to the Women's Intervention Nutrition Study, a clinical trial of almost 2,500 women ages 48 to 79 with early-stage breast cancer. Their chance of recurrence was 24 percent lower than that of a control group who ate more fat.

Limit HRT

The Women's Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Trial, a large study of women age 50 to 79, found that five years of combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) -- where both estrogen and progesterone are used -- was associated with an increase in the incidence of breast cancer in the recipients, compared with women who took a placebo. Some research has shown that younger women on HRT may not run the same cancer risk. Still, experts suggest using it for the shortest amount of time possible. Talk to your doctor about whether HRT is right for you.

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