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Breast Cancer: Beating the Odds

Three powerful ways women can lower their risk of breast cancer



Anthonyo Magit, Rady Children's Hospital, Pediatric Otolaryngologist

Dr. Anne Wallace, Comprehensive Breast Health Center at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, Breast Cancer Surgeon and Plastic Surgeon

As a breast cancer surgeon and plastic surgeon, Anne Wallace removes tumors and reconstructs women’s breasts. She also researches how to prevent and detect breast cancer early. Since one out of eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, Wallace’s advice is invaluable, ladies. The good news, there’s a lot of you can do for your breasts — not all easy, but potentially lifesaving. 

Know your genes.

Your genes hold the blueprint for your body, from the color of your eyes to the way your cells grow. Up to 15 percent of cancers are hereditary, caused by gene mutations you inherit from your parents. Wallace says DNA mapping brings new tests that paint a fuller picture of a woman’s cancer risk. “The genetics of breast cancer is really advancing,” says Wallace, director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. “It’s extremely important everyone know their family history really well, not just breast cancer.” Things to watch for: several relatives who had the same type of cancer or family members diagnosed with cancer at a younger age. In such cases, Wallace says getting tested for the best-known BRCA mutations can be helpful—but it’s no longer enough. Make a family tree. Talk to a genetic counselor.

A glass a day won’t keep the doctor away.

Even if a glass of wine with dinner is okay for your heart, Wallace says it’s not okay for your breasts. New research shows just one drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer. Every other day, Doc? Sorry. Oncologists used to think four drinks a week was acceptable, but new studies show even that to be potentially harmful to breast tissue. Wallace recommends no more than two alcoholic beverages a week. 

Feel the burn.

We know moving and sweating is good for pretty much everything. If you can swing an hour of intense activity—think jogging, swimming, or dancing—every day, you can lower your chances of breast cancer by 25 percent. Wallace says the goal is to increase muscle mass and burn fat, which can act like an estrogen factory in excess amounts. “Get your heart rate up—something that’s uncomfortable,” Wallace says. But don’t fret, walkers! The American Cancer Society found that postmenopausal women who walk seven hours a week lower their breast cancer risk by 14 percent. All movement counts! Especially when it helps you meet Wallace’s other recommendation: Keep your body weight close to where it was at high school graduation.

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