Let's start with the good news. After rising for decades, the number of new cases of breast cancer dropped from 1999 to 2005, possibly due to the reduction in the use of hormone replacement therapy. Yet breast cancer remains the most common cancer among women in the United States.
Nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed this year -- one every two or three minutes -- and more than 40,000 will die of the disease.
For your best defense against breast cancer, go on the offensive by making prevention a daily endeavor. "So many of your daily activities can be building blocks for good breast health," says Marisa Weiss, M.D., oncologist and president of the nonprofit Breastcancer.org. Along with monitoring your breast health with regular medical screenings, follow these strategies for reducing your risk.
Cut Your Chemical Exposure Found in countless items -- especially those made with plastic -- certain chemicals appear to interfere with your body's hormonal balance and could harm breast health. "Breast tissue is hypersensitive to hormonal activity; even a little interference can have an impact over time," explains Weiss. To reduce your exposure to chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates, Weiss recommends using products that are made from glass, ceramic, or stainless steel whenever possible.
Pick Your Produce Carefully "A plant-based diet is best for breast cancer prevention," says Weiss. Aim for five to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and try to stay away from produce that's heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides (chemicals that can disrupt normal cell growth and may increase the risk of breast cancer). Weiss recommends buying organic produce as often as you can, as well as checking the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides (at foodnews.org) for a list of fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide load.
Be Mindful With Meat. Eating red meat just once a week (or less) may curb your breast cancer risk, says Weiss. "Beef may contain compounds that are unhealthy for breast tissue, such as the hormones given to most cattle to accelerate their growth," she explains. Most conventionally raised cattle (along with poultry and pigs) are treated with antibiotics and fed crops grown with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, which end up in their meat and thus increase your chemical exposure when you eat it. In addition to choosing organic animal products, Weiss suggests avoiding charred meat (which may be high in carcinogens and promote unhealthy cell growth).
Fine-tune Your Diet Certain foods and nutrients may help fend off breast cancer, according to recent research. New animal-based research, for instance, suggests that eating apples (along with other antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables) may thwart the development of breast tumors. And in recent studies, scientists discovered that vitamin D (best taken in supplement form, at a daily dose of 1,000 milligrams) could help slow the growth of breast cancer cells. Loading up on cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower may also help keep breast tissue healthy, says Weiss.
Sip Smart Since alcohol is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, Weiss advises limiting your intake to five or fewer drinks per week. Indeed, a new study of 13,885 women found that those who sipped 14 or more alcoholic drinks per week faced a 24 percent increase in breast cancer risk -- even when they chose red wine over supposedly less healthy alternatives like white wine and beer.
Watch Your Weight"Staying at a healthy weight is essential for guarding against breast cancer," says Weiss. Recent research supports the long-established link between postmenopausal breast cancer and obesity: In a study of 5,450 women, scientists determined that those with the highest insulin levels (often associated with obesity) were more than twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those with the lowest insulin levels. To help keep your weight in check, calculate your calorie needs at MyPyramid.gov and stick with a Mediterranean-style diet.
Get Moving Also fundamental to attaining and maintaining a healthy weight, exercising at least three to four hours each week may help prevent breast cancer, according to Weiss.
Scientists are continuing to study the link between breast cancer and bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical present in polycarbonate bottles and many can linings. In a study released last year, researchers found that normal human breast cells exposed to BPA had a salient increase in genes that promote cell division and build resistance to drugs that typically kill cancer cells. And in a small recent study at the Harvard School of Public Health, volunteers had a 69 percent rise in their urinary concentrations of BPA after a week of sipping cold beverages from polycarbonate bottles.