Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Women’s Cancer Q&A: Advances in Care

WebMD’s women's cancer expert, Harold J. Burstein, talks to WebMD's chief medical editor about treatment advances, research breakthroughs, and the prognosis for the future.

Women hear a lot about the benefits of a low-fat diet and exercise, and popular rumors advocate avoiding chemicals such as those in antiperspirants. What’s your take on breast cancer prevention strategies?

With some cancers, we do know what the major risk contributors are. For instance, we know smoking is directly associated with lung cancer, bladder cancer, head and neck cancer, cervical cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

But with breast cancer, we don’t have such clear risk factors; in fact, most are fairly weak -- such as whether you had children or at what age you first became pregnant, how much you weigh, and how much alcohol you drink. They increase the risk of getting diagnosed with breast cancer only by a little bit. For most women, we don’t really know why they develop breast cancer.

However, the one risk factor that’s different is heredity. It’s clear that women who have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer have a greater risk of developing breast cancer themselves.

And we know now that there are at least two specific genes associated with both cancers: BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Common sense suggests that habits such as getting more cardiovascular exercise and eating more fruits and vegetables are good for everyone’s overall health. But it’s not clear that avoiding red meat, going on an all-vegetarian diet, drinking red wine, eating soy or avoiding soy, or similar actions will lower the chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

You mentioned genes earlier, and certainly BRCA1 and BRCA2 are in the news. Also, I see the occasional study looking at other genes that may or may not predispose women to breast cancer, or that may point to their getting a more aggressive type. Given this, should women seek out genetic testing or be more proactive in learning about their own genetic profile?

Not really, because breast cancer’s hereditary risk factors probably account for only 5% to 10% of cases. However, genetic counseling may be useful for women who do have several relatives who have had breast or ovarian cancer; or women from families where breast cancer strikes at a very early age, typically younger than 40; or women who have had breast and ovarian cancers -- these all could signal a possible hereditary risk.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow