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November 22, 2011

The Girl's Guide to Preventing, Avoiding, Treating, and Even Beating Cancer

In 2011, an estimated 43,570 American women between the ages of 20 and 39 will be diagnosed with cancer. The real shocker: Five cancers account for 31,510 of them—that's 72 percent. Here, how to prevent the most common cancers in young women.

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Cancer: The word alone can paralyze us. Instead of protecting ourselves, we resort to magical thinking—it won't happen to me. That's a mistake. Rates of the top five cancers in women 20 to 39—in order, they are breast, thyroid, melanoma, cervical, and colorectal—are rising. The good news: There's a lot you can do to prevent them. We talked to the country's top doctors and mined the latest research for Marie Claire's first-ever cancer crash course. Here, how to tackle your cancer risk with confidence.

BREAST CANCER: The Dreaded Diagnosis
Odds are, you know someone with the disease—the most common young women's cancer. Rates increased 23 percent in women 20 to 24 between 2000 and 2008, and according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer education and research foundation, it will kill almost 40,000 women of all ages in 2011. Experts believe the cell mutations that cause breast cancer are triggered by everything from X-rays to hormonal shifts during your period and pregnancy. Treatment includes surgical removal of tumors and lymph nodes, plus chemo, radiation, or hormone therapy. Words you want to hear if you're diagnosed? Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), meaning the cancer hasn't spread; about 20 percent of newly diagnosed tumors are DCIS.

- Notice nipple discharge or hard lumps or painful spots in your breasts? See a doctor.
- Eat right. Researchers at Marshall University in West Virginia found that 2 ounces of walnuts a day reduce risk.
- Pay attention to family history—on your mother's and father's side. If a relative was diagnosed before age 40, your doctor may prescribe annual mammograms from age 30 instead of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' current recommendation of 40. (The controversial guideline itself was revised this summer.)
- Ask if your family history warrants taking the BRCA 1- and 2-gene mutation test (usually covered by insurance). About 60 percent of women with the mutation will get the disease.
- If a doctor recommends a CAT scan or X-ray, make sure the results will truly affect your treatment–the procedures can increase your risk.

Redwood City, California-based health-care company Genomic Health is marketing a test analyzing certain tumors to predict the benefits of chemo and risk of recurrence.

11,310 Young women diagnosed in 2011. –AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY

3 times: The factor by which your risk can jump in your first pregnancy if you're over 30 with a family history of breast cancer. –DR. SUSAN LOVE, PRESIDENT OF THE DR. SUSAN LOVE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

"Medieval surgeons attacked breast cancer with primitive methods. One describes a mastectomy using fire, acid, and leather bindings." –THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES, SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE

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