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Video: Web only: Empowering women to fight breast cancer

updated 10/1/2009 1:02:07 PM ET 2009-10-01T17:02:07

To kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Love/Avon Army of Women — whichpartners with breast cancer researchers — shares the latest in nutrition and scientific discoveries to help women of all ages reduce their risk.

There is nothing that you can do to ensure that you absolutely do not get breast cancer, although studies have reported there are some lifestyle choices that may help reduce breast cancer risk. Right now, some of the most important appear to be: eating a healthy diet that is low-in-fat and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables (there is no data indicating that a specific diet, per se, can help reduce breast cancer risk); losing weight (if you are overweight); not gaining weight after menopause; getting regular exercise; and using hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms for the shortest time period necessary.

The American Cancer Society suggests you exercise for 45 to 60 minutes, 5 or more days a week.

The evidence on this being related to breast cancer is all over the map, quite conflicting, and far from consistent. There is no evidence, however, that one of these external factors that increase breast cancer risk is how women express — or don't express — their emotions or how they handle stress.

Some of the first studies to explore the relationship between breast cancer and foods found that women who ate lots of fruits and vegetables had a decreased risk of breast cancer. But now it appears that it's probably the vegetables that matter, not the fruit, and if they do matter, it's nowhere near the extent we thought they might. And while there have been some studies that found that eating a lot of vegetables might reduce the risk of a breast cancer recurrence, how much you should eat and what the risk reduction would be is far from clear.

Studies have found that having one or two drinks per day increased a woman's risk of developing a breast cancer tumor that is hormone-sensitive (ER+/PR+). Overall, about 70 percent of all women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have this type of tumor.

Compared to non-drinkers, women who consumed less than one drink daily had a 7 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer. Those who had one to two drinks a day had a 32 percent increased risk, while those who had three or more daily drinks had a 51 percent increased risk. The increased risk was found no matter what type of alcohol (wine, beer, etc.) a woman drank.

To put this into some perspective: A woman between the ages of 60 and 69 has a 3.65 percent chance — 1 in 27 — of developing breast cancer. If she had less than one drink a day, and her risk increased by 7 percent, she would now have a 3.9 percent chance — still 1 in 27—of developing breast cancer. If she had one to two drinks a day and risk increased by 32 percent, she would now have a 4.8 percent chance — 1 in 20 — of developing breast cancer. And if she had three or more drinks a day, she would not have a 5.5 percent chance — 1 in 18 — of developing the disease.

For more facts and tips on prevention, visit the Army of Women website.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints


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