Experts: Many breast cancer cases avoidable

(AP) - Up to a third of breast cancer cases in Western countries could be avoided if women ate less and exercised more, researchers at a conference on breast cancer said Thursday.

While better treatments, early diagnosis and mammogramscreenings have dramatically slowed the disease, experts said thefocus should now shift to changing behaviors like diet and physicalactivity.

"What can be achieved with screening has been achieved. Wecan't do much more," Carlo La Vecchia, head of epidemiology at theUniversity of Milan, told The Associated Press. "It's time to moveonto other things."

La Vecchia spoke Thursday on the influence of lifestyle factorsat a European breast cancer conference in Barcelona.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. In Europe,there were about 421,000 new cases and nearly 90,000 deaths in2008, the latest available figures. The United States last year sawmore than 190,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths. A woman's lifetimechance of getting breast cancer is about one in eight.

Many breast cancers are fueled by estrogen, a hormone producedin fat tissue. So experts suspect that the fatter a woman is, themore estrogen she's likely to produce, which could in turn sparkbreast cancer. Even in slim women, exercise can help reduce thecancer risk by converting more of the body's fat into muscle.

La Vecchia cited figures from the International Agency forResearch on Cancer, which estimated that 25 to 30 percent of breastcancer cases could be avoided if women were thinner and exercisedmore.

That means staying slim and never becoming overweight in thefirst place. Robert Baan, an IARC cancer expert, said it wasn'tclear if women who lose weight have a lower cancer risk or if thedamage was already done from when they were heavy.

Drinking less alcohol could also help. Experts estimate thathaving more than a couple of drinks a day can boost a woman's riskof getting breast cancer by four to 10 percent.

After studies several years ago linked hormone replacementtherapy to cancer, millions of women abandoned the treatment,leading to a sharp drop in breast cancer rates. Experts said asimilar reduction might be seen if women ate better - consumingless fat and more vegetables - and exercised more.

Michelle Holmes, a cancer expert at Harvard University, saidchanging things like diet and nutrition is arguably easier thantackling other breast cancer risk factors.

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