Is breast cancer in the genes? For some women, yes. But many women get breast cancer because they ignore the the strategies that are known to cut breast cancer risk.
That's the word from renowned breast cancer expert Dr. Susan Love, clinical professor of surgery at UCLA and president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation - as well as the author of "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book."
Keep reading to learn the cancer-preventing strategies Dr. Love recommends...
Avoid needless X-rays
Medical X rays, including mammograms, can be life-saving. But X-rays expose women to radiation, and too much radiation can cause DNA mutations that lead to breast cancer.
So before submitting to an X-ray, always ask the doctor if it is necessary.
Don't wait to have children
Women who have a child before age 35 are less likely to develop breast cancer. Obviously, it's not always possible to plan exactly when you'll have a child. But if you are trying to choose between having kids early or focusing on your career, "have the kids first," says Dr. Love.
Get off the couch
There's no longer any doubt about it: exercise helps prevent breast cancer. And breast cancer patients who exercise are less likely to have a recurrence. Dr. Love says at least three hours of aerobic exercise a week is just what the doctor ordered.
Watch your weight
Being overweight is never a good thing, but women who put on the pounds after menopause are more likely to develop breast cancer.
Think twice about hormones
Hormone supplements can ease symptoms of menopause, but study after study has shown that estrogen plus progestin increases the risk for breast cancer (not to mention heart attack and stroke). So stay away from them unless absolutely necessary, says Dr. Love. If you do go on hormone therapy, best to limit it to a year - two, tops.
Limit the booze
No, an occasional drink isn't likely to cause problems. But more than three or four alcoholic beverages a week seems to raise the risk for breast cancer. And those drinks need to be spaced out. Having four drinks on a one-day bender is worse for you than having one drink a day for four days, says Dr. Love.
Be a breast-feeder
Breast-feeding seems to protect against breast cancer. How long is best? "God only knows," says Dr. Love. "But close to a year is probably optimal."
Don't forgo mammograms
It's clear that mammograms can save lives by spotting tumors early - at least for women in age 50 or older. Younger than that? Best to discuss the pros and cons with a doctor.
Go easy on meat
While there doesn't seem to be such a thing as a "prevention diet" for breast cancer, Dr. Love says gorging on animal fat is probably a no-no. Better to eat a diet that's low in animal fat and high in whole grains, fruits, and veggies.
Know your breasts
If you don't pay attention to your breasts, you may miss out on lumps or other symptoms that suggest a problem. Best to keep an eye on them - and talk with your doctor if you notice any suspicious changes.