Pregnancy. It's long been known that women who go through their first childbirth before their late 20s have a lower risk of breast cancer and that those who get pregnant after age 35 have a higher risk than womenwho never get pregnant at all. Researchers now think that pregnancy causes permanent changes in the breast tissue. Love theorizes that the changes are beneficial in early adulthood before the DNA in our cells has undergone a lot of mutations but may be detrimental later in life after our DNA has mutated more times. (The lifespan of DNA mutations, a prominent cause of cancer, explains why cancer occurs far more commonly in our senior years.) "If you have the opportunity to have your kids before your career, then go ahead," says Love, but you certainly shouldn't avoid having children just because you waited. "I had my daughter at 40," she adds, "so it shows you how much attention I pay to all of this."
Prophylactic surgery. The latest research suggests that those with BRCA mutations can slash their risk of getting breast cancer if they have their breasts and ovaries removed before tumors form. "But as a surgeon, I know that we can never get all the breast tissue out so it's impossible to completely eliminate risk," says Love. "It's also scary to know that we have to cut out healthy body parts to prevent the cancer." She recalls that doctors used to perform hysterectomies on women with cervical cancer before they discovered that the cancer was caused by a sexually transmitted virus and a Pap smear was developed to screen for the virus. Now the cancer can be prevented with a vaccine or detected in a precancerous stage, a success story Love would like to see written for breast cancer.
Better research. Is breast cancer, like cervical cancer, caused by a virus? Or, like many stomach ulcers, triggered by a bacteria? Love says it's possible. "There's obviously something we've missed." She's encouraging women, whether or not they've had breast cancer, to volunteer to take part in research studies—an initiative that she calls the Army of Women—to identify hidden causes. Many of the studies simply involve filling out online questionnaires.