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Posted: October 5, 2013 7:30 p.m.

Battle of the bulge and breast cancer

Obesity linked to higher risk

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women, second only to lung cancer, and second most deadly cancer in women. One in eight women is expected to develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and a recent survey by the Society for Women's Health Research found that 22 percent of women named breast cancer as the disease they fear most.

While cancer treatments continue to evolve, there remains no permanent cure for breast cancer or any other types of cancer. However, there are steps people can take to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

One of the biggest things you can do also reduces the risk for many other health problems – maintain a healthy weight and diet. Obesity has been strongly linked to increased breast cancer risk, especially in women after menopause.

"We know that in many studies, looking at women who had a higher body mass index, there’s clearly a higher risk of breast cancer," said Dr. Kathleen Lambert, an oncologist with Georgia Cancer Specialists in Conyers and Decatur.

The exact relationship between obesity and breast cancer risk is unknown but may have to do with higher estrogen levels in the body.

Exercise plays a big part of reducing obesity and breast cancer risk.

For most healthy adults, at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly plus strength training at least twice a week is recommended, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The link between specific foods or types of food in the diet and breast cancer risk is not as strong, said Lambert. Some studies show slight connection between fatty or processed foods and cancer risk while others fail to show any link. Doctors still recommend four to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Carotenoids are cancer-protective pigments found in a vast number of fruits and vegetables. Researchers at New York University found women who had higher blood carotenoid levels had a significantly smaller risk of breast cancer than women with lower levels.

Another big risk factor is how much alcohol you drink. Women have more than three drinks a day have a greater risk of developing breast cancer than those who abstain from alcohol, studies have shown.

Smoking is also another big risk factor for pre-menopausal women. Other precautions women and men can take:

• Get screened regularly. Perhaps the greatest preventative measure you can take against breast cancer is committing yourself to regular mammograms and screenings.

• Perform monthly breast self-exams. But breast cancer is often found on a mammogram years before a lump is felt.

When caught in its earliest stages, breast cancer has a 98 percent likelihood of being cured.

• Weigh the risks of hormone replacement therapy. There are mixed reviews on hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, for postmenopausal women.

There may be a link between long-term HRT and breast cancer, particularly when estrogen and progesterone are used in combination.

Some doctors advise estrogen-only hormone therapy for women who have had a hysterectomy.

• Avoid exposure to radiation. Repeated exposure to radiation therapy used to treat illnesses like Hodgkin's disease can increase a person's risk of breast cancer, particularly if treatments beg n at an early age.

• Use of SERMs and aromatase inhibitors. Selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs, are drugs that act like estrogen on some bodily tissues but block the effect of estrogen on other tissues.

Aromatase inhibitors decrease the amount of estrogen made by the body. Women with a high risk of breast cancer may benefit from taking a SERM or aromatase inhibitor.

• Go sparingly on antibiotics. Only take antibiotics when they are truly needed.

New evidence suggests that the more often a woman takes antibiotics, the higher her breast cancer risk.

A study of more than 10,000 women found that women who took antibiotics for the equivalent of about 25 prescriptions over an average of 17 years where twice as likely to develop breast cancer than women who never took the drugs.

• Breastfeed your children. Lactation can suppress ovulation and the body's production of estrogen, which has been linked to higher levels of breast cancer.

Breastfeeding for at least six to 12 months may drop a woman's breast cancer risk by 4 percent.

Although there is no cure for cancer, there are a number of different ways women can reduce their risks for breast cancer.

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