Your Breast Defense

9 ways to stay breast-cancer free
By Erin Quinn

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Chances are this statistic will become even more sobering when you or someone you know faces a diagnosis or, worse, treatment for the disease. The good news? Thanks to much cutting-edge research in the last decade, more women are surviving and— even better—avoiding breast cancer altogether. Here, the newest studies that give clues on how to best protect yourself against this prevalent disease.

Develop a Coffee Habit
Sleep-deprived women everywhere, rejoice! There is no need to feel bad about needing that second or third cuppa joe. Researchers from Lund University and Malmo University in Sweden find that two to three cups of coffee each day can lessen the risk of breast cancer by altering the metabolism of estrogen hormones known to cause the disease. Caffeine has also been proven to repress the growth of cancer cells.

Break a Sweat
Grab your sports bra and lace up those sneakers: A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that women who exercise regularly are 25 percent less likely to be vulnerable to breast cancer. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether you jog, bike, or swim—all activity has preventative benefits. It’s also a good idea to encourage your daughter, little sister, or niece to join a sports team. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis find that regular physical activity in girls from ages 12 to 22 lowers estrogen levels, which can help safeguard them from breast cancer later in life.

Soak up Some Rays
Tanning comes with plenty of warnings, but you do actually need some sun every day. In fact, studies from the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg and University Hospitals in Hamburg-Eppendorf suggest vitamin D—which our bodies generate when exposed to sunlight—suppresses breast cancer by countering the cancer growth-promoting effects of estrogen. Still don’t believe the benefits of basking in the sun outweigh the negatives? You can also get vitamin D from a supplement (try to get at least 1,000 IU of the vitamin daily) or foods such as salmon, canned tuna, eggs, and dairy products.

Pour on the EVOO
Rachael Ray may be on to something: Extra virgin olive oil not only gives grilled veggies added flavor, but it can also guard against breast cancer. Scientists at Chicago’s Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine find that oleic acid, which is found primarily in olive oil, defends against a gene known to trigger breast cancer. This may explain why women who follow the Mediterranean diet have lower rates of the cancer. Bonus: Oleic acid has also been shown to prevent heart disease.

Steer Clear of Bad Fats
Fast food doesn’t just wreak havoc on your waistline, it can also double your chance of getting breast cancer, according to new research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. French scientists find that women with higher levels of trans-fatty acids in their systems have almost twice the risk of getting the disease. While it’s well documented that trans fats increase the risk of heart disease by raising levels of bad LDL cholesterol and diminishing levels of good HDL cholesterol, scientists remain puzzled as to how it correlates to breast cancer. So it’s best to keep your levels low by avoiding trans fat-filled foods including processed cakes, cookies, chips, and fast food.

Go Green
Tea party, anyone? EGCG, an antioxidant found in green tea, is known to shield cells from premature aging and damage in general. And a new study from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson reveals that the ingredient greatly decreases the advancement of breast cancer in mice by hindering the growth of blood vessels in tumors and preventing cancer cells from migrating or multiplying.

Say Hola to Mexican Food
Pass the tortillas! Scientists at the University of Utah find that following a traditional Mexican diet (which is rich in beans, soups, cheeses, and tomato-based sauces—and low in processed foods) may help shield you from breast cancer. Legumes and fresh produce such as tomatoes contain cancer-fighting antioxidants. Conversely, the greatest risk for breast cancer was associated with the high-fat, high- sugar, low-fiber diet favored in the American culture.

Pick Chianti Over Chardonnay...
When it comes to fighting cancer, red wine shows a lot of promise. Antioxidant-rich vino has long been known to suppress heart disease, but new research suggests it can also safeguard against breast cancer. According to scientists at the University of Nebraska, resveratrol, a compound found in red grapes and red wine, stops the development of abnormal cells that can result in breast cancer. One glass of red wine a day is all you need to reap the benefits of the powerful ingredient. For teetotalers, resveratrol is also available as a dietary supplement.

... But Just Have One
Think the preventative power of red wine sounds too good to be true? You’re right. A recent study by the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, California, finds that women who drink more than three alcoholic beverages a day—whether it’s beer, liquor, or wine—increase their chances of getting breast cancer by 30 percent. And if you have between one and two drinks each day, you’ll raise your susceptibility by 10 percent. Getting too much ethyl alcohol seems to be what takes all alcoholic drinks (even red wine) from preventative to possible cancer causers. So when you’re pouring a nightcap, remember that one is the magic number.

Embrace Indian Spices
These aromatic seasonings do more than add flavor and clear your sinuses: Hundreds of studies suggest curcumin— the ingredient in turmeric that turns curries yellow—can kill cancer cells by inhibiting the enzymes that cause inflammation in the body, says Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, a professor at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Erin Quinn is an editor and writer in New York City.