Four Ways to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk
Article date: October 12, 2012
About 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some point during her life. While you can’t change some risk factors—genetics and aging, for example—there are things you can do that may lower your breast cancer risk. Here are 4 ways to help protect your breast health.
- Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese increases breast cancer risk. This is especially true after menopause and for women who gain weight as adults. The major source of estrogen for postmenopausal women is not the ovaries, but fat tissue. The more fat tissue, the more estrogen to fuel breast cancer growth.
If you’re already at a healthy weight, stay there. If you’re carrying extra pounds, try to shed some. There’s evidence that losing weight may lower breast cancer risk. One easy goal to get started is to try losing 5% to 10% of your current weight over 6 months. For most women, that means dropping just half a pound per week.
- Exercise regularly. Many studies have found that exercise is a breast-healthy habit. One study found that women who did as little as 75 to 150 minutes of brisk walking each week had an 18% lower risk of breast cancer. Ramping up your exercise routine even more may lower your breast cancer risk even further.
The American Cancer Society recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. (Or a combination of both.) And don’t cram it all into a single workout—spread it out over the week.
- Limit alcohol. Women who have 2 or more alcoholic drinks a day have about 1½ times the risk of breast cancer compared to women who don’t drink at all. That doesn’t mean you can no longer enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Follow the American Cancer Society’s recommendation of no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. A single drink amounts to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).
- Avoid or limit hormone replacement therapy. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) had long been the cure for night sweats, hot flashes, and other troublesome symptoms of menopause. But in 2002, researchers found the treatment was far from a miracle. Postmenopausal women who took a combination of estrogen and progestin were more likely to develop breast cancer as well as other problems, a finding that led to a plummet in HRT use over the past decade.
Breast cancer risk appears to return to normal within 5 years after stopping the combination of hormones. Estrogen alone does not seem to raise breast cancer risk, although it can up the risk for some other health problems.
Talk with your doctor about all the options to control your menopause symptoms, and the risks and benefits of each. If you do decide to try HRT, it is best to use it at the lowest dose that works for you and for as short a time as possible.
Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff
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