Can I Lower My Risk of Breast Cancer?

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But there are things you can do that might lower your risk. Many risk factors are beyond your control, such as being born female and getting older. But other risk factors can be changed and may lower your risk.

For women who are known to be at increased risk for breast cancer, there are additional steps that might reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

For all women

Get to and stay at a healthy weight: Both increased body weight and weight gain as an adult are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause. The American Cancer Society recommends you stay at a healthy weight throughout your life and avoid excess weight gain by balancing your food intake with physical activity.

Be physically active: Many studies have shown that moderate to vigorous physical activity is linked with lower breast cancer risk, so it’s important to get regular physical activity. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.

Moderate activity is anything that makes you breathe as hard as you do during a brisk walk. It causes a slight increase in heart rate and breathing. You should be able to talk, but not sing during the activity.

Vigorous activities are performed at a higher intensity. They cause an increased heart rate, sweating, and a faster breathing rate.

Limit or avoid alcohol: Alcohol increases risk of breast cancer. Even low levels of alcohol intake have been linked with an increase in risk. The American Cancer Society recommends that women who drink have no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).

Is there a link between diet/vitamins and breast cancer risk?

The possible link between diet and breast cancer risk is not clear, but this is an active area of study. Some (but not all) studies have suggested that a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products might help lower the risk of breast cancer. It's also not clear if specific vegetables, fruits, or other foods can lower risk. And most studies have not found that lowering fat intake has much of an effect on breast cancer risk (although some have suggested it might help lower the risk of dying from breast cancer).

But just because the science isn't clear on this doesn't mean that there’s no point in eating a healthy diet. A diet low in fat, low in processed and red meat, and high in fruits and vegetables can clearly have many health benefits, including lowering the risk of some other types of cancer.

So far, there's no strong evidence that taking vitamins or any other type of dietary supplement reduces the risk of breast cancer.

For more on the links between body weight, physical activity, diet, and breast cancer (as well as other cancers), see American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

Other factors that might lower risk: Women who choose to breastfeed for at least several months may also get an added benefit of reducing their breast cancer risk.

Using hormone therapy after menopause can increase your risk of breast cancer. To avoid this, talk to your health care provider about non-hormonal options to treat menopausal symptoms.

For women at increased risk of breast cancer

If you are a woman at increased risk for breast cancer (for instance, because you have a strong family history of breast cancer, a known gene mutation that increases breast cancer risk, such as in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or you have had DCIS or LCIS), there are some things you can do that might help lower your chances of developing breast cancer (or help find it early).

  • Genetic counseling and testing for breast cancer risk (if it hasn’t been done already)
  • Close observation to look for early signs of breast cancer
  • Medicines to lower breast cancer risk
  • Preventive (prophylactic) surgery

Your health care provider can help you determine your risk of breast cancer, as well as which, if any, of these options might be right for you.

Genetic counseling and testing

If there are reasons to think you might have inherited a gene change that increases your risk of breast cancer (such having as a strong family history of breast cancer, or a family member with a known gene mutation), you might want to talk to your doctor about genetic counseling to see if you should be tested. To learn more, see Genetic Counseling and Testing for Breast Cancer Risk.

If you decide to be tested and a gene change is found, this might affect your decision about using the options below to help lower your risk for breast cancer (or find it early).

Close observation

For women at increased breast cancer risk who don’t want to take medicines or have surgery, some doctors might recommend close observation. This approach might include:

  • More frequent doctor visits (such as every 6 to 12 months) for breast exams and ongoing risk assessment
  • Starting breast cancer screening with yearly mammograms at an earlier age
  • Possibly adding another screening test, such as breast MRI

While this approach doesn’t lower breast cancer risk, it might help find it early, when it’s likely to be easier to treat.

Medicines to lower breast cancer risk

Prescription medicines can be used to help lower breast cancer risk in certain women at increased risk of breast cancer.

Medicines such as tamoxifen and raloxifene block the action of estrogen in breast tissue. Tamoxifen might be an option even if you haven’t gone through menopause, while raloxifene is only used for women who have gone through menopause. Other drugs, called aromatase inhibitors, might also be an option for women past menopause. All of these medicines can also have side effects, so it’s important to understand the possible benefits and risks of taking one of them.

To learn more, see:

Preventive surgery for women with very high breast cancer risk

For the small fraction of women who have a very high risk for breast cancer, such as from a BRCA gene mutation, surgery to remove the breasts (prophylactic mastectomy) may be an option. Another option might be to remove the ovaries, which are the main source of estrogen in the body. While surgery can lower the risk of breast cancer, it can’t eliminate it completely, and it can have its own side effects. For more on this topic, see Preventive Surgery to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk.

Before deciding which, if any, of these options might be right for you, talk with your health care provider to understand your risk of breast cancer and how much any of these approaches might affect your risk.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2019-2020. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2019.

Chlebowski RT, Aragaki AK, Anderson GL, et al. Association of low-fat dietary pattern with breast cancer overall survival: A secondary analysis of the Women's Health Initiative randomized clinical trial. JAMA Oncol. 2018 Oct 1;4(10):e181212. Epub 2018 Oct 11.

Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al. American Cancer Society Guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: Reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012 Jan-Feb;62(1):30-67.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Breast Cancer Risk Reduction. V.1.2019. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/breast_risk.pdf on July 25, 2019.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Breast
Cancer Screening and Diagnosis. V.1.2019. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/breast-screening.pdf on July 25, 2019.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Genetic/Familial High-Risk Assessment:
Breast and Ovarian. V.3.2019. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/genetics_screening.pdf on July 25, 2019.

Last Medical Review: September 10, 2019 Last Revised: September 10, 2019

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