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Breast cancer: Is prevention possible?

Not long ago, women were told there wasn’t much they could do to prevent breast cancer. It appeared that “bad” genes and other uncontrollable risk factors like having begun to menstruate at an early age combined to make the disease a matter of fate.

The best a woman could hope? Early detection. But today, encouraging news from the research front suggests that women may be able to take action in the battle against breast cancer.

How exercise helps

Exercise may well be the single most important weapon in a woman’s arsenal. A Norwegian study tracked more than 25,000 women for an average of 14 years. The researchers’ findings? Women who exercised at least four hours a week were 37 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than their less active counterparts.

Doctors think the exercise-estrogen link may account for the reduced risk. Here’s why: The greater a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen, the greater her risk for breast cancer. Exercise, for its part, suppresses estrogen production mainly by promoting lean body mass. That’s important since fat cells stimulate the production of estradiol, one of the body’s most potent forms of estrogen.

Attention to diet and more…

But women’s breast cancer-beating power doesn’t stop there. Other studies suggest that in addition to exercise, women would do well to avoid red meat, boost their intake of vegetables and fiber, limit alcohol consumption and stop smoking. Some studies have also suggested that monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, may actually help protect against breast cancer, too.