Is Breast Cancer Preventable?

News — By on June 22, 2009 at 6:55 am

(CBS) The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer don’t have known risk factors, such as family history.

Dr. Emily Senay Says There Are Steps Women Can Take To Reduce Risk

In the third and final part of The Early Show’s series on breast cancer awareness, health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay looked at the question: Is breast cancer preventable?

“That’s a difficult question,” Senay told co-anchor Rene Syler on Wednesday. “Preventing it really would require a much better understanding of what causes it. And we really don’t know yet what causes breast cancer.

“Having said that, we do know that there are things women can do, women at average risk, to reduce their risk of getting breast cancer. And it’s not absolute, because it’s very hard to predict in an individual person who will or won’t get it. But we know from large population studies that there are some things that are linked to reducing risks, or at least, doing the opposite behavior is linked to an increased risk.

“Exercising regularly, four hours of strenuous exercise per week, has been linked, according to the National Cancer Institute, to a reduced risk of breast cancer. Controlling your weight is another. We know that obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer, so maintaining a healthy weight is obviously a good idea.

Eating right: There’s a suggestion that fruits and veggies that are high in things like beta-carotene and vitamin A may help. And limiting alcohol: We know alcohol (is a risk factor) in a dose-dependent way, meaning, as you increase the amount of alcohol you’re drinking, you’re increasing your risk for breast cancer. So, limiting alcohol is another thing that women at average risk or even high risk can do to try to help reduce the risk of breast cancer.”

Senay said Syler was “absolutely right” in saying most breast cancers seemingly come out of the blue, and women who think they’re not at risk because they don’t have a family history of the disease are wrong.

“That’s why,” Senay continued, “it’s often tricky to figure it out. Even women who have a strong family history, that’s not 100 percent predictive that that they will ultimately develop breast cancer.”

Syler wondered about environmental factors, such as pesticides, dry cleaning and deodorant. Senay pointed out that “There are no studies that definitively link any one environmental contaminant to a higher risk of breast cancer. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. This is an area of intense study right now, but there’s no one thing we can say that’s in our environment that’s causing breast cancer.”

As for diet, “There’s a suggestion of some things,” Senay noted, “but there’s no definitive evidence yet that any one supplement or over-the-counter pill or vitamin or nutrient will help reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer.”

Finally, Senay added that women who have a strong family history of breast cancer make up “a very special group, and there are things these women can do to prevent it. They can obviously take medications. One of them is tamoxifen. They can consider what’s called a prophylactic mastectomy or an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries). These are procedures that can be done, removal of the breast tissue that will reduce a woman’s risk by 90% in the high risk categories.”

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