Health Watch -- Breast Care Prevention

Health Watch is a Public Service of the  Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What can you do to help protect yourself against breast cancer?

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, Dr. Phil Evans, director of the Center for Breast Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says there are things women can do to help lower their risk. Most of these things fall under the heading of just living a healthy lifestyle.

Eat a low-fat diet and exercise regularly. A recent study conducted by researchers in Pittsburgh found that women who walked at a moderate pace for 75 to 150 minutes a week lowered their breast cancer risk by 18 percent. Alcohol use appears to raise breast cancer risk slightly, so if you drink, do so in moderation. Avoid being overweight. There are indications that excess fat in the body may raise estrogen levels, which raises breast cancer risk.

These recommendations apply to everyone, but some women are at extremely high risk for breast cancer. A family history of breast cancer, particularly in close relatives like a mother, sister or daughter, raises risks. Your doctor can help determine your cancer risk by using a computer program that calculates risk based on various factors. For women at very high risk, studies have shown that treatment with the drug tamoxifen decreases the chances of developing cancer by up to 45 percent. Researchers are now studying a newer drug that appears to have the same effect as tamoxifen but with fewer side effects.