NPR logo Healthy Living Can Temper Breast Cancer Risk That Runs In Family

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Healthy Living Can Temper Breast Cancer Risk That Runs In Family

Some simple steps for healthier living appear to reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer later in life, even if a close relative has already had the disease.

Moderate exercise five days or more each week is one ingredient for reducing breast cancer risk. hide caption

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Researchers found women had a lower risk of breast cancer when they exercised regularly (20 minutes of moderate or vigorous intensity at least five days a week), drank modestly (7 or fewer drinks a week) and kept a normal body weight.

This isn't the first study to support the notion that taking these steps can help stave off cancer. And the American Cancer Society already recommends women take these steps.

But the researchers also took a look at how the preventive measures worked when a woman's mother or sister got breast cancer at age 45 or older. About 15 percent of post-menopausal women in the U.S. are in that boat.

The researchers found the good behavior lowered risks for women even when a close relative had already been diagnosed with breast cancer later in life. The effect was about the same as for women without the family history.

Still, the cancer risk remained higher for those with a family history — about 5.94 breast cancers for every 1,000 years lived by those women compared with 3.51 breast cancers for the healthy-living women without the family history.

The findings come from the experience of 87,000 women, ages 50-79 at the beginning of a study looking at breast cancer risks. They answered questions about their cancer risks and health behavior back in the 90s. The researchers checked on who got breast cancer and who didn't through 2003.

The results were just published online by the journal Breast Cancer Research.