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October 8, 2008 > Can Healthy Eating and Exercise Really Reduce Your Risk for Breast Cancer?

Can Healthy Eating and Exercise Really Reduce Your Risk for Breast Cancer?

Washington Hospital Lunch and Learn Offers Tips for Preventing the Disease

Say the words "breast cancer" and most women tremble. It is one of the most feared diseases among women and one of the most common. If you are a woman, the chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in your life is about one in eight, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 40,400 women in this country will likely die from breast cancer this year.

"The statistics can be scary for women," said Dr. David Cheng, an oncologist at Washington Hospital who will present an upcoming Lunch and Learn session on the topic. "But there are ways women can reduce their risk for breast cancer."

"Breast Cancer Prevention" is scheduled for noon on Thursday, October 16, at the Washington Hospital Women's Center, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To reserve a space, call (800) 963-7070.

The session will provide an overview of breast cancer and tips for preventing the disease. It will also discuss ways women who have had breast cancer in the past can prevent a reoccurrence.

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts from cells in the breast. The cells rapidly divide and form a mass of extra tissue or lump. These masses are called tumors. If the cancer is not caught in time, it can spread to the rest of the body.

Dr. Cheng will discuss some of the risk factors for breast cancer, which include age and gender - older women are at much higher risk - family history, dense breast tissue, early menstruation (before age 12), oral contraception use, and post-menopausal hormone therapy. Women who have already had breast cancer are also at increased risk.

"I will also talk about the role of hormone therapy in breast cancer," Dr. Cheng said.

Hormone replacement therapy has been used for many years to reduce the symptoms of menopause and help prevent osteoporosis. Most women are prescribed estrogen and progesterone combined because estrogen alone can increase the risk of uterine cancer. But long-term use of the two combined increases the risk of breast cancer and may also increase the chances of dying from breast cancer.

Focus on Lifestyle Changes

Dr. Cheng will focus his prevention message on four key areas that impact your risk of developing breast cancer: weight, exercise, diet and alcohol consumption.

"There are a number of clinical trials that show a relationship between these four risk factors and breast cancer," he said.

Maintain a healthy weight. There is a clear link between obesity and breast cancer. This is especially true if you gain weight later in life, particularly after menopause. Excess fatty tissue is a source of estrogen circulating in the body and breast cancer risk is linked to how much estrogen you are exposed to in your lifetime.

Stay physically active. Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and improve overall health. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.

Limit fat in your diet. Studies on dietary fat and breast cancer show a decrease in the risk of invasive breast cancer for women who eat a low-fat diet. Eating a diet low in fat can also help keep your weight down.

Avoid alcohol. A strong link exists between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. Limit alcohol to less than one drink a day or avoid it completely.

Dr. Cheng will also talk about medicines that can prevent breast cancer. Tamoxifen, for example, is a drug that blocks some of the effects of estrogen on breast tissue.

To learn more about reducing your risk for breast cancer, register for the
upcoming Lunch and Learn at (800) 963-7070.

For more information about other Washington Hospital programs and services, visit

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