Who is at the most risk for developing breast cancer?
Since age is the primary factor after gender, women older than 50 are the key group. They account for 77 percent of cases.
What are some other factors?
Menstrual periods beginning before age 12.
Never having children.
Having children after age 30.
Radiation treatment for other cancers.
Long-term use of hormone replacement drugs.
High-fat diet low in fruits and vegetables.
Exposure to pesticides.
Exactly what impact does a family history of breast cancer have? If your mother or a sister was found to have it before age 50, your risk is higher. But most women with breast cancer dont have close relatives with the disease, studies have found, and most women who have a family history wont develop it themselves.
What can be done to reduce the risks? Lifestyle changes can make a big difference:
If you drink alcohol, dont have more than two drinks a week.
Limit your consumption of red meat and other sources of animal fat (including dairy fat in cheese, milk and ice cream) because they might contain stored hormones or harmful pesticides.
Things you should do in your . . .
Limit your radiation exposure. Ask if you can get an MRI or ultrasound instead of an X-ray or CT scan, an X-ray technique that uses particularly high levels of radiation.
Watch your diet, particularly because younger women think they can get away with eating more and eating unhealthy foods. Eating three or more servings of red meat a week has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Be sure to breastfeed. Youre not producing as much estrogen, which reduces your risk, said Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut.
Lose the baby weight. Women who gain more than 36 pounds while pregnant and dont lose it are 60 percent more likely to develop breast cancer after menopause, say researchers at Georgetown University.
Go digital. Starting at 40, all women need a mammogram yearly. If youre younger than 50 or have dense breasts, get a digital mammogram (its slightly more accurate than traditional X-rays).
Keep moving. Studies show that women who keep exercising as they age suppress excess estrogen, which can fuel tumor growth.
50s AND 60s:
Above all else, keep getting mammograms and try to take walks daily. Even though age is the No. 1 factor, research shows that women get less vigilant about checkups as they reach typical grandmother age.
Skip hormone therapy if youre 60 or older. Though research suggests that brief stints on hormone therapy to relieve menopausal symptoms are OK in younger women, its best to avoid it once you reach this age.