Low-fat diet cuts risk of breast cancer death, study finds

Eating a low-fat, plant-based diet could help significantly lower a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer, and the key appears to be changing eating habits before tumors have a chance to develop, according to a study released Wednesday.

The new findings are from a long-term analysis of the federally funded Women's Health Initiative, and included data on more than 48,000 postmenopausal women across the U.S.When the WHI study began in 1993, the women were in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and had never been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Nearly 20,000 of those women spent the next eight years carefully logging what they ate, aiming for less dietary fat, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, and more fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

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Celebs who have had or are battling breast cancer
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Celebs who have had or are battling breast cancer

Olivia Newton-John 

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus

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Robin Roberts

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Giuliana Rancic

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Suzanne Somers

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Gloria Steinem  

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Sheryl Crow

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Cynthia Nixon

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Wanda Sykes

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Kylie Minogue 

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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Hoda Kotb is seen on the set of the Today Show on September 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)

Carly Simon

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Dame Maggie Smith 

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Christina Applegate 

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Shannen Doherty

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Janice Dickinson

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Rita Wilson

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Edie Falco 

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 Sandra Lee

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Kathy Bates

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The women were tracked for 20 years, through 2013. Researchers from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center who analyzed the data found that women who stuck to the low-fat, plant-based diet had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer.

"This is the first randomized trial where breast cancer was an endpoint, and we've been able to show a reduction in deaths," said study author Dr. Rowan Chlebowski of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.

Diet is a powerful tool in changing the way cancer behaves or responds to treatment

Breast cancer is the second deadliest cancer among women, according to the American Cancer Society.

The new study did not find a significant drop in breast cancer cases overall, although it's unclear why. It's too soon to say that a low-fat, plant-based diet does not protect a women from developing breast cancer, experts note.

"It could be that we need more follow-up, or that the effect on cases would have been stronger if the diet was continued for a longer period of time," said Dr. Neil Iyengar, who studies the relationship between diet and cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He was not involved in the new research.

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What Foods You Should Eat or Avoid to Prevent Breast Cancer
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What Foods You Should Eat or Avoid to Prevent Breast Cancer

Prevent breast cancer by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Whether they contain body-boosting antioxidants or powerful micronutrients, these 13 foods are linked to lower breast cancer risk. Plus, find out what foods you should avoid.

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Flaxseed

According to flaxseed researcher Dr. Lilian Thompson, PhD from the Unversity of Toronto, research suggests that flaxseed may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Flaxseed contains plant omega-3 fatty acid ALA and lignans, which both inhibit tumor growth, as well as protective antioxidants.

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Oily Fish

A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that women who ate the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids from fish had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who consumed the least. Oily fish like salmon and tuna are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

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Cruciferous vegetables

Vegetables in the cabbage family like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts can protect against estrogen-dependent cancers. In addition to being a good source of carotenoids and fiber, cruciferous vegetables naturally contain chemicals called glucosinolates, which are known for their anticancer effects.

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Walnuts

Walnuts, which have anti-inflammatory health benefits, have been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer in animal studies.

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Dark green, leafy vegetables

Leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens are significant sources of carotenoids, a micronutrient linked to reduced breast cancer risk. Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that women who consumed high levels of carotenoids had 15-20 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who ate the lowest levels.

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Red, Yellow and Orange Vegetables

Other sources of carotenoids include vibrant vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and squash. Science suggests eating foods high in this micronutrient may reduce your risk of breast cancer.

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Green Tea

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found the consumption of green tea extract to inhibit two growth factors that promote tumor cell growth among women with breast cancer. The polyphenols in green tea may explain these anti-cancer properties.

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Whole Grains

Research suggests that diets high in fiber can lower your risk of breast cancer by reducing the levels of estrogen in blood. Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, as well as beans, brown rice and oatmeal.

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Seaweed

Varieties of seaweed like nori, kombu and wakame are high in cancer-fighting carotenoids. Sprinkle shreds of seaweed on top of salads and soups.

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Studies suggest that the natural antioxidants in good-quality extra virgin olive oil may help fight breast cancer by suppressing the expression of cancer genes. The oil is pressed without heat or chemical treatments, thereby preserving valuable phytonutrients.

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Parsley

University of Missouri researchers found that a compound called apigenin, commonly found in parsley and other plants, stopped or slowed down tumor formation in rats with a certain type of breast cancer. Try mincing parsley on top of your dishes for a healthy boost.

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Folic Acid-Rich Foods

One study found that folate, a vitamin found in dark green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits, can mitigate the adverse effects of alcohol consumption on breast cancer risk, according to the American Cancer Society. Another good way to get folic acid is by taking a daily multivitamin.

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Peanut Butter

A study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment last month found a link between regular peanut butter consumption in childhood and a decreased risk of developing benign breast disease, which is a known risk factor for breast cancer. While it's too early to suggest that peanut butter lowers breast cancer risk, it doesn't hurt to swap junk food with all-natural peanut butter-topped veggies and nuts at the kids' snack time.

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Avoid these foods that are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

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Alcohol

You'd be surprised to find that even a little alcohol consumption can be unhealthy. According to the American Cancer Society, even a few alcoholic drinks a week may increase the risk of breast cancer in women.

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High-fat Dairy Food

U.S. News reports that even as little as one serving of high-fat dairy foods per day can increase the risk of breast cancer by nearly 50 percent, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Foods like whole milk and cream are considered high-fat dairy products.

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Red Meat

Researchers from the University of Leeds found that women who consumed red meat every day had a 56 percent greater risk of breast cancer than women who ate no red meat, stressing the importance of eating this protein in moderation.

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Processed Meat

Processed meats, like bacon, sausage and ham, are also on the chopping block. The same study revealed women who consumed these foods often had a 64 percent greater risk of breast cancer than those who ate none.

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Sugar

While sugar consumption has not been directly linked to breast cancer risk, eating unhealthily can promote obesity, which is associated with higher breast cancer risk. Limit your intake of cakes, cookies, sweetened cereals, sugary beverages and other sweets.

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One thing is certain, Iyengar said. "Diet is a powerful tool in changing the way cancer behaves or responds to treatment."

Other cancer experts agree. "That healthy start is going to make a difference going through treatment," said Dr. Chasse Bailey-Dorton, chief of integrative oncology at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"We don't know why so many of us get breast cancer," Bailey-Dorton said. "There are multiple factors. But the more factors you can take out, you're going to have a different outcome."

The findings are scheduled to be presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June.

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Things in your home that can cause cancer
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Things in your home that can cause cancer

Your garden

Dioxin is a carcinogen that forms as a chemical byproduct and ends up in our soil and water. It's in the dust on shelves, the dirt on floors, and the residue on vegetables. Your risk of cancer from dioxin exposure may be greater than one in one-thousand, says clean-living guru, Sophia Ryann Gushée.

What can you do?

Wear gloves when working in the garden, and always wash up before heading inside. Additionally, avoid backyard burning of household trash.

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Your big, comfy couch

Your favorite sofa could be killing you, and not just because it lures you away from activity: Many sofas, mattresses, and other cushioned furniture are treated with TDCIPP, a flame retardant known to cause cancer (i.e., a carcinogen). TDCIPP was used so frequently prior to 2013 that a study out of Duke University found it in the blood of everyone they tested. It's also one of ten chemicals most frequently found in household dust, according to this study.

What can you do?

Consider replacing cushioned furniture you purchased prior to 2013, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council—and check furniture labels on any purchases.

And while you're at it, make sure you aren't around any of these other causes of cancer.

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Your curtains and carpets

Cadmium is a carcinogenic byproduct of cigarette smoke. If you smoke in your house, cadmium and other cigarette smoke by-products may be lurking, especially on soft surfaces such as curtains and carpet—even long after the smell of smoke is gone. There's even such a thing as third-hand smoke and it's resistant to even the strongest cleaning products. Here's where you can learn more about third-hand smoke and its dangers.

What can you do?

Quit smoking—here are 23 tips to kick start kicking the habit—and never allow smoking in your home.

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Your leather recliner

Chromium (VI) is a known carcinogen found in tanned leather, wood furniture, certain dyes and pigments used in textiles, and cement. To give you an idea of the prevalence of chromium VI, one study out of Denmark found that almost half of imported leather shoes and sandals contained some level of the carcinogen.

What can you do?

As with TCIPP, pay attention to labeling. And don't be shy about asking questions of your furniture salesperson.

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Your old fridge

According to cancer.org, carcinogenic PCBs can turn up in old appliances, fluorescent lighting fixtures, and electrical transformers. While no longer commercially produced in the United States, PCBs are still manufactured and used in developing countries, and of all PCBs ever produced, up to 70 percent are still in the environment. Diet is another major source of exposure, according to Gushée.

What can you do?

Get rid of those old appliances and fluorescent light fixtures. Pay attention to advisories regarding PCB-contaminated fish and fish-eating wildlife.

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Your cleaning products

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen found at home in food, cosmetics, a variety of cleaning products (such as dishwashing liquids, fabric softeners, and carpet cleaners), paint, foam insulation, and on permanent press fabrics. In addition, you can be exposed by breathing smoke from gas cookers and open fireplaces.

What can you do?

Here is a list of household products that contain formaldehyde, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Choose your cleaning products carefully—here are some chemical-free ways to clean your home. Also, be sure to ventilate your cooking areas.

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Your closets

The dry-cleaning chemical perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene or "perc") is a carcinogen that can build up wherever you store your dry-cleaned clothes. It's also found in spot removers, shoe polish, and wood cleaners.

What can you do?

Wear gloves when polishing your shoes and cleaning wood. If you dry-clean your clothing, try to find a dry-cleaner who doesn't use perc. And check out the times you can feel free to ignore the dry-clean only label.

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Your vinyl flooring and miniblinds

Phthalates are suspected of causing cancer and may adversely affect human reproduction or development. They're found in vinyl flooring, shower curtains, synthetic leather, miniblinds, wallpaper, and anything made with PVC vinyl. They're also found in food packaged in plastic.

What can you do?

Stay away from products made with PVC vinyl. Look for products that are labeled as phthalate-free. Toss plastic toys made before 2008, according to mindbodygreen.com, and switch to glass and stainless containers and bottles. And reconsider your use of plastic wraps and food containers.

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Your favorite rice and chicken dinner

Everyone knows arsenic is poisonous, but in smaller doses, it's also carcinogenic. Yet you can find it in foods you probably eat regularly—including chicken, rice, and certain fruit juices, as well as in degreasing products, dyes, furniture wax, glues, lubricants, nylon, and paints.

What can you do?

Serve only organic chicken, and follow these rice-related guidelines issued by Consumer Reports. Check the labels on your household products; people following a gluten-free diet may be at particular risk of arsenic exposure.

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Your insulation

Asbestos has been out of favor for decades, thankfully, but you can still find it in the insulation of older homes. As the insulation eventually deteriorates, asbestos fibers become airborne. Since asbestos fibers stick to clothing and shoes, workers exposed to asbestos on the job can also bring asbestos into their homes.

What can you do?

Follow these guidelines to reduce asbestos exposure in your home.

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Your styrofoam cups

Styrene is a known carcinogen widely used in the manufacturing of polystyrene plastics, which can be made into foam and rigid plastic products such as cups, plates, trays, utensils, packaging, and packing peanuts. Styrene may leach into your hot coffee or soup if you're using styrofoam containers. It's also present in cigarette smoke and in all of these home maintenance, automotive, and crafting productsWhat can you do? Avoid using styrofoam to hold hot foods and liquids, and read your product labels carefully. Find out the 12 foods you should never microwave.  

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Your library books

According to the Library of Congress and other government sources, medical supplies, library books, and museum artifacts may all be sterilized or fumigated with ethylene oxide, which is a known carcinogen. What can you do? Mostly a problem for people who work with the chemical, you can minimize exposure by not bringing items into your house that have been exposed to ethylene oxide.

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Your weedkiller

No one likes weeds, but if you decide to decimate them using herbicides such as Roundup, which contains the carcinogen glyphosate, you may be raising your risk for cancer.

What can you do?

Make a practice of carefully reading the labels on your weedkillers. And consider using some of these natural weed killers that don't contain dangerous chemicals.

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Your bug spray

Pantry pests and other creepy crawlies can carry disease. But if you eliminate them using chemical pesticides, you're increasing your risk of cancer. Chemical pesticides include those that you use on your pets, such as flea collars and tick-repellant.

What can you do?

Seek out less-toxic pesticide alternatives—or make your own, like this natural tick repellent that works.

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Your granite counter

Radon is formed naturally from the radioactive decay of uranium in rocks and soil. It raises the risk of lung cancer—especially if you also smoke, says Ashley Sumrall, MD, FACP, a Charlotte-based oncologist. If you live in an area where the amount of uranium and radium in rocks is high, you can be exposed to radon through cracks in your foundation. You can also be exposed to radon if you have a granite countertops.

What can you do?

If you live in an area with high levels of uranium and radium, or if you have granite countertops, consider having your home's radon levels measured. Here's what you need to know about radon testing.

Next, find out the causes of cancer that might surprise you.

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More metabolic risk factors, more benefit

Researchers took a close look at the women's metabolic risk factors, such as abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. The more metabolic risk factors a women has, the higher her risk for developing cancer.

"Most people are aware that obesity increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease, but many are not aware of the cancer risk," Iyengar told NBC News. Obesity is a major risk factor for at least 13 different cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.

This study found the greater a woman's metabolic risk, the greater the benefit of the dietary intervention. When the research team looked at women with three or four metabolic risk factors, the risk of dying from breast cancer plummeted by 69 percent.

Women in the study were told to consume no more than 20 percent of daily calories from fat. Not many were able to achieve that, but it didn't matter. Benefits were significant even if women were only able to reduce fat intake to 24.5 percent of their daily calories.

"If we move the needle in a favorable way and don't quite achieve that target," Iyengar said, "there does appear to be a benefit."

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10 celebrities get real about breast cancer
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10 celebrities get real about breast cancer

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The 56-year-old was most recently diagnosed with breast cancer soon after the 2017 Emmy Awards. She confirmed the diagnosis on Instagram, quickly calling attention to the plight of other women who don't have health care. 

"1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I'm the one. The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let's fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality," she wrote in the post

Angelina Jolie 

In 2013, at age 37, the actress wrote a New York Times piece about her experiences with breast cancer and the BRCA1 gene. She had an 87% risk of breast cancer, 50% risk of ovarian cancer, so she took preventative action, including a double mastectomy and the later removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes.

"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex," she wrote.

Continuing in the New York Times, But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.

  

Cynthia Nixon

At 40, the acclaimed actress was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2006. She decided to keep it private for a year after her diagnosis. 

At age 12, Nixon watched her mother battle breast cancer and knew the importance of preventative care. 

"I’ve learned that if you catch breast cancer early, the chances are overwhelmingly good that you’ll be cured. So my attitude, which very much mirrored my mother’s, was this wasn’t a big deal," the star said, according to Marie Claire

Giuliana Rancic 

In 2011, after the diagnosis of an early-stage tumor, the host underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

She said to Glamour: "....My doctor said, "We have great news in one breast and bad news in the other. You need to start thinking about a mastectomy." That had been the furthest thing from my mind. I knew nothing about breast cancer before this happened to me, and I thought mastectomy meant stage three or four cancer. I didn't have a big family history of it. I just never thought it would happen to me. I really didn't."

Shannen Doherty

The former "Beverly Hills, 90210" star was diagnosed in 2015 and regularly documented her battle on social media. After going through chemotherapy, she announced she's in remission in April 2017. 

"Moments. They happen. Today was and is a moment. What does remission mean? I heard that word and have no idea how to react. Good news? YES. Overwhelming. YES. Now more waiting. As every single one of my fellow cancer family knows, the next five years is crucial. Reoccurrences happen all the time," she shared on social media

Sheryl Crow

In 2006, the singer publicly announced she was battling the disease after she underwent "minimally invasive surgery." 

"I am inspired by the brave women who have faced this battle before me and grateful for the support of family and friends," she said according to ABC News

Olivia Newton-John

In 2017, the 68-year-old singer and actress revealed she was once again battling breast cancer. After her first diagnosis in 1992, she underwent a partial mastectomy as well as chemo. 

"I am really grateful for and touched by the worldwide outpouring of love and concern. Thank you. I am feeling good and enjoying total support from my family and friends, along with a team of wellness and medical practitioners both here in the US and at my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia. I’m totally confident that my new journey will have a positive success story to inspire others!” she said exclusively to People in June

Melissa Etheridge

Because of the singer's family history, Etheridge was "vigilant" about examinations before eventually being diagnosed in 2004. 

"I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life. It excites me every day when I can wake up and feel energy and feel good and feel purpose. The changes I made were big and not easy. Sugar is a drug, incredibly addictive. That one change can make a huge difference in your life," she said to ABC News in 2015

Christina Applegate

At 36 years old, the actress was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. After biopsies and a lumpectomy, as well as radiation, she tested positive for the BRCA gene.

Later, she underwent a double mastectomy. "It came on really fast. It was one of those things that I woke up and it felt so right," she says. "It just seemed like, 'I don't want to have to deal with this again. I don't want to keep putting that stuff in my body. I just want to be done with this.' & I was just going to let them go," she said according to CNN.

Rita Wilson

In 2015, it became known that the actress was battling breast cancer and underwent both a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. 

Since then, she's been outspoken about encouraging others to be vigilant about routine checks.

"Last week, with my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma. I am recovering and most importantly, expected to make a full recovery. Why? Because I caught this early, have excellent doctors and because I got a second opinion," she said according to People

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And the study participants accomplished this by staying in their food comfort zone. "You can do it largely with substitutions, not changing what you're eating, but changing the preparation, and choosing smaller portions," Chlebowski said.

That means eating a 4-ounce steak, rather than an 8-ounce serving, for example. That cuts some of the dietary fat, but also leaves room on the plate for added veggies or grains.

Others say the findings reinforce what they've long advised, though the focus on fat has changed over the years.

In the early 1990s when the study began, the concern was overall fat in the diet, according to cancer prevention expert Karen Basen-Engquist of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"Now we focus on saturated fat," Basen-Engquist said. "It's possible that if they designed this study today, they'd probably have a much bigger emphasis on saturated fat that comes from meats and dairy products."

 

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