1. Having one drink (or more) a day.
Women who have one alcoholic drink every day up their chances of getting breast cancer by about 9 percent from those of women who don't drink at all, according to a 1998 study done at the Harvard Medical School of Public Health in Boston. "We found that breast-cancer risk increased by about 9 percent for every daily drink consumed," explains study author and Harvard epidemiologist Stephanie Smith-Warner, Ph.D. In other words, regularly downing two glasses of wine a night increases your risk for breast cancer by about 18 percent; three a night raises your risk by 27 percent. So is it safe to drink at all? Yes, in moderation, says Rache Simmons, a breast surgeon at the New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. "I'd recommend limiting your intake to a drink a day."
RELATED: Try these delicious non-alcoholic sippers instead!
2. Piling on the pounds.
Carrying extra weight means more than being self-conscious in a bathing suit: It may actually up your chances of getting breast cancer. "Women who are overweight tend to have higher blood estrogen levels and higher insulin levels, both of which we believe may promote the development of cancerous cells," explains Ruth Oratz, a breast-cancer oncologist at the New York University Medical Center Kaplan Comprehensive Cancer Center. After menopause, being overweight can increase your risk for breast cancer by up to 60 percent, according to one study. (Researchers are still unsure exactly how much weight gain is too much, so check with your doctor.)
And even though menopause is very likely years away, experts say you should lose any extra weight now. "You should really avoid weight gain during your 20s, 30s and 40s, because it's likely that any weight you put on will carry into your postmenopausal years," explains Deborah Axelrod, M.D., chief of the Comprehensive Breast Center at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center in New York. You should also try to limit pregnancy weight gain to between 25 and 35 pounds: A Georgetown University study found that women who gained more than 40 pounds during a single pregnancy faced a 40 percent greater risk of developing breast cancer after menopause. (Women who retained the added pounds after pregnancy were at the greatest risk, regardless of their starting weight.)
RELATED: 7 Ways to Jump-Start Your Weight Loss This Fall
3. Being a couch potato.
There's plenty of evidence that going out and breaking a sweat can help lower breast-cancer risk. One study at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles found that women who participated in at least four hours of exercise a week during their premenopausal years had a 58 percent lower breast-cancer risk than women who were inactive. Why does exercise reap such positive benefits? Most likely because it decreases the estrogen in the blood. Studies have shown that exercise may increase your body's production of cancer-fighting cells. Aim for at least three 45-minute sessions a week.
RELATED: Get fit and have fun with this Bollywood dance workout.
4. Postponing motherhood.
Women who have their first full-term pregnancy after 30 or never give birth at all are at slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer, notes Debbie Saslow, Ph.D., director of breast and gynecologic cancers at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. "The more children a woman has, the lower her risk of developing breast cancer - probably because she's not ovulating as much (because of pregnancy) and thus her lifetime exposure to hormones is lower," she explains. Studies also suggest that breastfeeding offers a bit of protection against the disease, particularly against postmenopausal breast cancer. "The benefits may be slight, especially for those who do it for only a short time, but there are so many other health advantages to breastfeeding that we encourage women to do it if they can, for as long as they can," says Saslow.
RELATED: How to Get Pregnant - The Latest News to Help You
5. Not eating your broccoli.
A few florets a day may keep breast cancer at bay. Research at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center in New York found that women who daily ate a mixture of cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.) showed significant reductions in an estrogenic compound believed to cause breast cancer. "These vegetables contain chemicals called indoles, which seem to induce the body to burn off the form of estrogen that promotes breast cancer," explains Axelrod. Try to include these veggies in your diet at least two to three times a week. It doesn't matter if you eat them raw or cooked; researchers believe that their protective benefits are essentially the same either way.
RELATED: 18 Easy Ways To Incorporate More Veggies in Your Diet
4 Vital Facts About Cervical Cancer
The Deadliest Cancer Women Face Now
Will You Get Breast Cancer?
Fight Your Genetic Fate Using Your Family Tree
Get More on Love, Family & Fashion - Subscribe to Redbook & Save up to 82%!
Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.
1. Having one drink (or more) a day.