DEAR DR. DONOHUE: How can a woman lower her risk of coming down with breast cancer? I cannot tell you how the thought of it frightens me. My husband says I have gone overboard with this, but I can’t conquer my fear, no matter how hard I try. – P.O.

: Heart disease, not breast cancer, is the No. 1 killer of women. Early detection of breast cancer and early treatment usually assure a woman of having a normal life span. I can give you some tips that might lower the risk of breast cancer.

What significance diet plays in breast cancer prevention is up in the air. Some studies suggest that the following foods are protective: sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, carrots, peaches, cantaloupes, leafy green vegetables such as romaine lettuce and spinach, apricots and winter squash. Not all studies, however, support the protective effect of these foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids are touted as shields against breast cancer. These acids are found in fish, particularly mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies and tuna.

Alcohol, on the other hand, increases breast cancer risk. One drink a day only slightly raises the risk. Heavy use greatly ups it. A drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Women do not need to forgo a glass of wine at dinner if they’d like to have one.

Soy has been proclaimed as a woman’s best friend when it comes to breast cancer protection. Asian women have a low incidence of this cancer, and they eat a soy-based diet. When they move here, their seeming resistance to breast cancer disappears upon adopting our diet. Soy contains genistein, a weak estrogen. Proponents say it blocks real estrogen from nourishing breast cancer cells. Opponents say just the opposite. It might be wise to wait for the final answer before relying on soy as a preventive.

Shedding extra pounds and exercising daily do ward off breast cancer.

The breast cancer pamphlet provides up-to-date information on this common cancer. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 1101, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S/$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My two children had chickenpox. This was at a time well before the chickenpox vaccine appeared on the scene. One of my children had it twice. Doctors refuse to believe me when I tell them this. They tell me that a child gets the infection only once. Are two infections possible? – F.K.

Two attacks of chickenpox are possible but rare. One attack generally immunizes against a second attack as effectively as the vaccine wards off infections.

Explanations of how second attacks occur include the following: The second attack could have been by a chickenpox virus that was slightly different from the first virus, and the body failed to recognize it. Or, at the time of the first infection, the child’s immune system was not working up to snuff and did not produce protective antibodies that would make that child invulnerable to another attack.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband is 55. He has large bags under his eyes. They make him look much older than his actual age. What can he do to get rid of them? – N.H.

Strands of fibrous tissue hold in place fat beneath the eyes. They’re sort of like a breakwall. With age, those strands give way. Fat bulges to produce bags.

Surgery is the only cure for bags under the eyes.

Make sure that your husband’s bags are fat and not some other material. Heart and kidney diseases can cause fluid accumulation beneath the eyes, and the fluid gives the appearance of bags. An underactive thyroid gland can do the same.

I’m not suggesting your husband is ill. I only want to cover all possibilities, no matter how remote they might be.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.