Almost a quarter of a million women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. And while early detection and more effective treatments have dramatically reduced the number of those who will die from the disease, researchers are still searching for ways to prevent it altogether.
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"Right now there's no sure way to prevent breast cancer, but we know healthy habits significantly decrease your risk," says Debbie Saslow, Ph.D., director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the American Cancer Society.
Here, the latest cutting-edge thinking from researchers.
1. Get enough sleep
Postmenopausal women with breast cancer who routinely sleep less than six hours a night may be twice as likely to have more aggressive breast cancers compared with those who sleep longer hours, a new study has found.
"Cancer is a disease of mistakes in our DNA. Sufficient sleep is responsible for maintaining our circadian rhythm, which regulates our body's natural DNA repair. If that process is frequently disrupted, so is DNA correction," explains lead author Cheryl Thompson, Ph.D., of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
If you have difficulty getting your six-plus hours, consider enrolling in an online sleep-improvement program, such as the Cleveland Clinic's Go! to Sleep plan, which combines cognitive behavioral therapy with tools including a daily sleep log and progress charts.
2. Lose weight
While the link between obesity and breast cancer is well-known, a recent study finds that just being overweight — but not obese — can also be detrimental for those who have already been diagnosed. The study of more than 4,000 women shows that being obese raised a woman's risk of recurrence by 30 percent and her risk of death by 50 percent, despite optimal treatments such as chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. And the risk of recurrence also increased with increasing BMI, even in women in the overweight range. The results pertained to women with hormone receptor–positive breast cancer, the most common type, which accounts for about 65 percent of cases.
"Breast cancer risk is linked to increased levels of estrogen, and fat tissue produces excess amounts of it," says lead author Joseph A. Sparano, M.D., of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. "Fat also raises insulin levels, which can stimulate tumor growth."
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