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Michelle Holmes, a cancer expert at Harvard University, said changing things like diet and nutrition is arguably easier than tackling other breast cancer risk factors.
"Women who have early pregnancies are protected against breast cancer, but teenage pregnancy is a social disaster so it's not something we want to encourage," she said in a phone interview. "But there's no downside to reducing obesity and increasing physical activity."
She also said people may mistakenly think their chances of getting cancer are more dependent on their genes than their lifestyle.
"The genes have been there for thousands of years, but if cancer rates are changing in a lifetime, that doesn't have much to do with genes," she said.
In the 1980s and 1990s, breast cancer rates steadily increased, in parallel with the rise in obesity and the use of hormone replacement therapy, which involves estrogen.
La Vecchia said countries like Italy and France -- where obesity rates have been stable for the past two decades -- show that weight can be controlled at a population level.
"It's hard to lose weight, but it's not impossible," he said. "The potential benefit of preventing cancer is worth it."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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