Have a Family History of Breast Cancer? Keep Up a Healthy Lifestyle

Chalk another one up for the power of prevention.  While it’s easy to give in to the “heredity is destiny” mindset when it comes to diseases like breast cancer, new research from the Women’s Health Initiative suggests that women can take positive steps to lower their risk of breast cancer even if they have a family history of the disease.

The study, released early in the journal Breast Cancer Research (link) and reported yesterday on futurity.org (link), followed over 85,000 postmenopausal women who were part of the federal Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study.  Researchers classified women by family history – those with a first degree relative (sister, mother) who had breast cancer after the age of 45, and those without – and by health behaviors – those who maintained a healthy weight, exercised regularly, and drank less than one alcoholic drink per day, and those who did not.

What they found after over five years of followup was that a woman’s family history had no significant affect on the benefits linked to a healthy lifestyle.  Women with a family history who did all three healthy behaviors (weight, exercise, alcohol) saw drops in their breast cancer risk compared to women with a family history who did none of the healthy behaviors.  The same relationship held for women without a family history.

While the results indicated that a healthy lifestyle didn’t lower the risk directly linked to family history, they do show that leading a healthy lifestyle should be an important goal for all women, including those with a family history of the disease.

Breast health tips for all women include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life
  • Exercising regularly
  • Drinking only moderately (less than 1 drink/day), if at all
  • Avoiding long-term use of postmenopausal hormones, especially those with estrogen plus progestin
  • Getting screened regularly – clinical breast exams in 20’s and 30’s, with annual mammograms added in 40’s.

To get an estimate of your breast cancer risk as well as personalized prevention tips, visit Your Disease Risk.

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