As you enter the years of higher cancer risk, your breasts probably cause you some worry now and then.
Turn anxiety into action. Some risk factors for breast cancer—such as the age you started menstruating—can't be changed, but these key habits help keep cancer at bay, no matter when you start.
You're never too old to start working out
"Exercise lowers levels of estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer," says the ACS's Debbie Saslow. It's best to get 45 to 60 minutes of heart-thumping activity most days of the week, but moderate levels (30 minutes, 5 days a week) can make a difference. You're never too old: A recent study in the British Medical Journal showed that postmenopausal women (along with those with a normal body mass index, or BMI) get more of a benefit from regular sweat sessions than other women.
Drop pounds for cancer prevention
After menopause, obese women have double the risk of breast cancer compared with women of a healthy weight. But weight gain among previously trim women also bodes ill. "Gaining even 20 pounds of weight as an adult increases risk," says Heather Spencer Feigelson, PhD, MPH, strategic director of genetic epidemiology at the ACS.
Drink Lightly, If At All
Another reason to pass on another glass of wine
New data from the National Cancer Institute shows that women who have one or two drinks daily increase the risk of the most common kind of breast cancer by 32%—and those who drink more hike their risk by 51%. Experts recommend no more than a glass a day.
Long-term use of HT can increase breast cancer risk, the Women's Health Initiative demonstrated—and new research shows the heightened risk persists several years after you stop. Take hormones only if menopausal symptoms are unmanageable, and limit time on the therapy to no more than 5 years. Consider alternatives, such as SSRI antidepressants for hot flashes and vaginal creams with estrogen for dry genital tissues.
Forget Self-Exams, But Be Self-Aware
Surprising news about breast exams
After hearing for years that you should do a monthly breast self-exam, you might be surprised to learn that it's now considered optional. Studies have found that it doesn't save lives and can increase the odds of an unnecessary biopsy. But many doctors are reluctant to completely abandon it. "About 15% of breast cancer is detected by women themselves," says Eva Singletary, MD, a professor of surgical oncology at M.D. Anderson. So doctors still want you to get to know your breasts—and alert your provider to anything outside the norm for you.