Gathering information on breast cancer prevention is essential in order to reduce your risks for the disease. Because genetics play a crucial role in breast cancer development, if your family has a medical history that includes breast cancer, it’s important for you to know as much breast cancer information as possible.
One of the most important things women and men can do to prevent breast and other types of cancers is maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Being obese or overweight significantly increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Eating a well-balanced diet that is low in fat and getting regular exercise will help you maintain your weight while also improving your general well being.
Don’t assume that you need to hit the gym for hours every day just to reduce your risk of breast cancer. Getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (which can include taking a brisk walk or cutting the lawn) on most days of the week can lower your risk of getting breast cancer.
Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk
Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits — such as limiting alcohol and staying physically active. Understand what you can do to reduce your breast cancer risk.
If you're concerned about breast cancer, you might be wondering if there are steps you can take toward breast cancer prevention. Some risk factors, such as family history, can't be changed. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk.
What can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?
Lifestyle changes have been shown in studies to decrease breast cancer risk even in high-risk women. The following are steps you can take to lower your risk:
- Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. The general recommendation — based on research on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk — is to limit yourself to less than 1 drink per day as even small amounts increase risk.
- Don't smoke. Accumulating evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women. In addition, not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
- Control your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
- Be physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
- Breast-feed. Breast-feeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.
- Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy. Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer. If you're taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options. You might be able to manage your symptoms with nonhormonal therapies and medications. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose that works for you and continue to have your doctor monitor the length of time you are taking hormones.
- Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution. Medical-imaging methods, such as computerized tomography, use high doses of radiation. While more studies are needed, some research suggests a link between breast cancer and radiation exposure. Reduce your exposure by having such tests only when absolutely necessary.
Can a healthy diet prevent breast cancer?
Eating a healthy diet might decrease your risk of other types of cancer, as well as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. For example, women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts might have a reduced risk of breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet focuses on mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet choose healthy fats, like olive oil, over butter and fish instead of red meat.
Maintaining a healthy weight also is a key factor in breast cancer prevention.
Is there a link between birth control pills and breast cancer?
A number of older studies suggested that birth control pills — which often had higher estrogen doses prior to 1985 — slightly increased the risk of breast cancer, especially among younger women. In these studies, however, 10 years after discontinuing birth control pills women's risk of breast cancer returned to the same level as that of women who never used oral contraceptives. Current evidence does not support an increase in breast cancer with today’s birth control pills.
What else can I do?
Be vigilant about breast cancer detection. If you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a new lump or skin changes, consult your doctor. Also, ask your doctor when to begin mammograms and other screenings based on your personal history.