What breast cancer doctors tell their friends
Can your deodorant cause breast cancer? What does drinking have to do with it? Should you get tested for the "Angelina gene"? These are the prevention tips you'd get from a doctor if she were your best friend.
You need to exercise, no matter what
"Many friends of mine who are naturally slim will say, 'I don't need to exercise!' I tell them, in fact, you do: I urge every one of them to do 40 minutes of cardio four to five days a week to cut her breast cancer odds. In addition to maintaining a BMI of 25 or under, exercise has been shown to have a protective effect for all women, not just women who are high-risk. We don't know exactly why exercise might help prevent breast cancer—it may have to do with improving your immune system to knock out cancer cells. Eighty percent of all breast cancers are spontaneous, meaning there's no obvious reason for getting the disease, like family history, so any step you take to lower your odds is a great choice." —Laura Kruper, M.D., codirector of the breast oncology program at City of Hope, a cancer research center and treatment hospital near Los Angeles
Angelina was a special case
"It's great that Angelina Jolie's preventive double mastectomy is raising awareness about the BRCA1 gene. But I tell friends and relatives who ask me about genetic risk that the BRCA gene is very rare. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer—meaning your grandmother, mother, and possibly a sister have been diagnosed before the age of 50—you should certainly talk to your doctor about whether you fit the precise medical criteria for genetic testing. If you do carry the gene, don't automatically jump to the conclusion that you, too, have to lose both breasts. Many times, we can alternate a mammogram with an MRI every six months to watch for any indications of cancer developing. You may also elect to have your ovaries removed before a mastectomy; doing that will lower your risk for both ovarian and breast cancer right away. If you feel most comfortable eliminating breast tissue with a mastectomy, that's your personal choice, and I respect that—I just tell my friends that it's a real crime that we don't have better preventative methods than having to remove normal body parts. It's a decision you really need to take the time to think over." —Susan Love, M.D., president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation in Santa Monica, CA
Watch what you eat — and what your kids eat too
"Some studies suggest that what you eat pre-puberty can have some impact on your breast cancer risk later in life. I always tell my friends this, in regard to planning their kids' diets. I feed my own family from the farmers market as much as possible. There's not enough data to definitely prove that organic food is helpful in terms of preventing breast cancer, but my belief is that it does make sense to avoid hormones in processed foods as much as you can. I also limit my kids' soda and overall sugar intakes—some researchers suspect that sugars, both real and artificial, can alter metabolic pathways in the body and potentially cause breast cancer to occur or progress. A lot of friends ask me about so-called 'magic' foods for fighting breast cancer, like blue berries or kale; I tell them that those foods contain antioxidants, which can be great for cutting your cancer risk as a whole, but that there are no specific foods that target breast cancer in particular. Still, filling up on fruits, veggies, and lean protein will help you avoid foods that might drive up your cancer risk." —Vered Stearns, M.D., codirector of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center's breast cancer program at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore
No, you don't have to give up your wine
"My friends often ask me if they should stop drinking to avoid getting breast cancer. I tell them they don't have to quit altogether. It's true that alcohol can raise your risk—but for many women, the rise may not be enough to outweigh the heart-healthy benefits of drinking in moderation. One to two drinks per day is considered 'heavy consumption' in terms of raising your risk, so keep it to a glass every other night." —Elisa Port, M.D., chief of breast cancer surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
Follow the five-year rule for birth control pills
"I tell my friends to consider changing their contraception if they've been on the Pill for five years or more. Breast cancer thrives on estrogen, and birth control pills contain a combination of hormones that includes estrogen—and we don't know the maximum dose you can safely take without increasing your chance of developing the disease. The good news: Your breast cancer risk drops to the level of a woman who hasn't taken the Pill almost immediately after you stop." —Jacqueline Miller, M.D., medical director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program in Atlanta
You can't get breast cancer from deodorant
"Urban myths get passed from woman to woman about what you might be doing to yourself to get breast cancer. I'm constantly debunking them for my friends. A big one is that using deodorant causes breast cancer—which is completely false. I think that myth got started because women who have had breast surgery are told not to use deodorant for a brief time post-op, but that's only so you're not irritating stitches or creating an infection. Another myth is that you can get breast cancer from using haircolor—there's no science to back that up. Ditto for wearing an underwire bra." —Susan Love, M.D.
Breast cancer is not an emergency
"When someone says, 'You have cancer,' you panic and want to act to get it out of you right that second. But I always tell women, 'Breast cancer is not an emergency.' You need to gather all the information you can before you act wisely. Take time to look into all of your treatment options. The majority of my patients live for many, many happy years due to early detection and great therapy. One just told me, 'When you said I'd be over this whole thing in two years, I didn't believe you. I thought I wouldn't be here, but here I am.' The best way to think about breast cancer: Deal with the present, and feel good about the future."—Deborah Capko, M.D., surgical oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, NJ