Although there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, there are several things you can do that may lower your likelihood of getting it. This is because certain breast cancer risk factors are related to personal or lifestyle behaviors, such as diet and physical activity. Other lifestyle-related risk factors include decisions about taking medicines that contain hormones.
Here are 5 ways to help protect your breast health.
1. It's best not to drink alcohol. Women who drink should have no more than 1 drink a day.
Drinking alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Women who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a small (about 7% to 10%) increase in risk compared with those who don't drink, while women who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk. Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of other types of cancer, too.
2. Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese, especially after menopause, increases breast cancer risk and gaining weight as an adult adds to your risk.
After menopause, most of your estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue increases the amount of estrogen your body makes, raising your risk of breast cancer. Also, women who are overweight tend to have higher levels of insulin. Higher insulin levels have also been linked to breast cancer.
If you’re already at a healthy weight, do what you can to stay there. If you’re carrying extra weight, work with your health care team and try to lose some. There’s some evidence that losing weight may lower breast cancer risk. Losing even a small amount of weight can also have other health benefits and is a good place to start.
3. Be physically active and avoid time spent sitting.
Many studies have found that regular physical activity reduces breast cancer risk .
The American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity recommends getting at least 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week. Getting to or exceeding 300 minutes is ideal. You can learn more about getting active in Fitting in Fitness.
In addition, you should limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, and other forms of screen-based entertainment. This is especially important if you spend most of your working day sitting.
4. Follow a healthy eating pattern.
A healthy eating pattern includes a variety of vegetables, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), fruits in a variety of colors, and whole grains. It is best to avoid or limit red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods and refined grain products. This will provide you with key nutrients in amounts that help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.
5. Think carefully about using birth control with hormones and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Some studies show that certain kinds of birth control pills, shots, and implantable or topical forms that use hormones might increase breast cancer risk.
Using HRT with a combination of estrogen and progestin increases the risk of breast cancer. This combination can also lead to increased breast density making it harder to find breast cancer on mammogram. The good news is that within 3 years of stopping the hormones the risk returns to that of a woman who has not used HRT.
For women who have had a hysterectomy, taking HRT that only includes estrogen may be a better option. Estrogen alone does not increase breast cancer risk. However, women who still have a uterus are at increased risk of endometrial cancer from estrogen only HRT.
Talk with your doctor about all the options to control your menopause symptoms, including the risks and benefits of each. If you 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.
For information on other known and possible breast cancer risk factors, see:
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.