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Christina Applegate Seeks Early Detection for Breast Cancer

Inspired by her own battle with cancer, the actress fights to help young women at high risk for the disease.

Risk Factors for Early Breast Cancer continued...

Scientists are still debating about some of these factors, such as whether exposure to chemicals in the environment that contain or mimic estrogen can lead to breast cancer. But there's little debate that a woman who has her first child in her 20s is more protected against breast cancer than one who doesn't get pregnant until her 30s.

"I know a girl whose cancer was found at stage III," says Applegate. "She'd gone in a year earlier feeling a lump, and the doctor told her it was probably just a calcium deposit and did no tests. If she'd had it taken out then, maybe it would have been a stage I cancer. Now it's in her lymph nodes, and she's dealing with a much worse situation."

Many young women involved in the Young Survival Coalition, an organization for young women with breast cancer, report similar experiences -- finding a lump or another suspicious change in their breast and being told by doctors that they're "too young for breast cancer."

Applegate's Mastectomy

Cancer has changed Applegate's life in many ways. She's become much more vigilant about her health in general. She has adopted a macrobiotic diet that she says offers her the reassurance that everything she's putting in her body is as healthy as possible.

She's also done her best to wipe stress from her life. "The second I was diagnosed, this house became a stress-free zone. There's no bull**** in my house -- I don't allow it here," she says. "I changed my bedroom over and cleaned out a lot of unnecessary things to make the environment clean, calm, and clutter-free so I could wake up in a sanctuary. It's been good for my mind and my spirit."

Perhaps not surprisingly for the star of Fox's long-running Married ... With Children and films like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, as well as in the new Farrelly brothers comedy, Hall Pass, with Owen Wilson, opening in February 2011, Applegate's best weapon in battling cancer has been humor.

"I laughed more during my surgery and during the time afterward than I ever had in my life," Applegate says. "There are so many funny things in a hospital, really, you just have to laugh. You know, I had a catheter when I was in the hospital after my mastectomy, and I always thought it was funny that the people who came to visit me were sitting right next to my bathroom. I'd look at them and say, ‘I'm going. Right now. How's that make you feel?'"

But comedian though Applegate is, the journey hasn't all been laughter. "Having a mastectomy is an amputation," she says. "A lot of doctors will tell you that you'll look so much better -- your breasts will be higher up or prettier or perkier, and maybe that's true. But they're not going to be the same as what you had. Your body and your emotions and your soul and your spirit are all going through an amputation. I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was for that aspect."

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