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Protect Against Breast Cancer

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  • Protect Against Breast Cancer

    Protect the Heart to Defend Against Breast Cancer?
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    By: Eric Sabo

    May 25, 2005?In the space of a week, breast cancer has gone from a serious concern to a problem that seems downright manageable. Findings from separate studies suggest that this common cancer might be effectively countered through either exercise, a low-fat diet or by taking cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins.
    The latest study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that breast cancer patients can live longer with their disease by walking the equivalent of one or more hours a week. Looking at some 3,000 registered nurses with breast cancer who underwent the same type of treatment, researchers found that those who exercised had a lower chance of dying from the disease than women who were mostly inactive.

    The research follows studies that produced similarly heartening results. In one recent trial, researchers found that women who ate low-fat foods after being treated for breast cancer were less likely to see the disease return. Another study found that the millions of women who take statins for high cholesterol receive an additional benefit: these drugs appear to cut the risk for developing breast cancer in half.

    Experts caution that this research is still unfolding, and it remains to be seen if such promising results will hold up in further studies. But the findings imply that interventions proven successful for heart disease may help against breast cancer?both diseases account for nearly 540,000 combined deaths in women a year.

    At the moment, researchers say that the link between fighting heart disease and breast cancer is something of a coincidence. Exercise may help against breast cancer by lowering estrogen, while statin drugs might inadvertently block a common pathway associated with a range of different cancers.

    "None of these have anything to do with heart disease," said Wendy Chen, MD, of the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

    Even so, such heart-protecting measures may seem far more appealing than the current methods for preventing breast cancer. Other than a mastectomy, where a surgeon removes the breast, the only proven way to prevent the disease is to take Tamoxifen or a similar drug, which is associated with a higher risk of endometrial cancer.

    Despite increased safety concerns about one of the statin drugs, Crestor (Editor's note: In a previous version of this article, Lipitor was incorrectly identified as the drug of concern), most doctors view these treatments as exceptionally safe. Moreover, a healthy diet and exercise can hardly hurt. Is the path to a healthy heart the way to beat breast cancer?

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