Breast Cancer Prevention

Written by Jaime Herndon | Published on September 2, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on September 2, 2014

Breast Cancer Prevention

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), more than 232,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. Next to skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer diagnosed in women. There is no way to fully prevent breast cancer, since there is no singular cause. You may be able to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, but it’s still possible to develop the disease.

Some risk factors, like gender, family history, age, and genetics, cannot be changed. Despite this, you can still make healthy choices and change what you can.

Genetic Testing

The BRCA gene mutation increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about getting genetic testing if breast cancer runs in your family. If your results indicate that you are high risk for developing breast cancer,  there are actions you can take to help reduce your risk. These include preventative surgery, medication, and frequent breast exams. A genetic counselor can help you with interpreting and understanding your results, and deciding what to do.

Diet and Lifestyle

Certain lifestyle factors can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Obesity,  lack of physical exercise, and smoking cigarettes are risk factors for the disease. Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Drinking alcohol has also been associated with an increased risk of disease. It’s a good idea to limit or cut out alcoholic drinks. Smoking increases your risk of several cancers, and quitting can help reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Women with a history of a pregnancy before the age of 30 have been shown to have a lower risk of breast cancer compared with women whose first pregnancy and birth occurred after 30, says breastcancer.org. If you breastfeed for several months after giving birth, it might reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, suggests the American Cancer Society.

Medication

Using medication to help prevent cancer is called chemoprevention. Several drugs have been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer. These include:

  • tamoxifen
  • raloxifen (Evista)
  • anastrozole (Arimidex)
  • exemestane (Aromasin)
  • letrozole (Femara)

These drugs help prevent breast cancer by interacting with estrogen in different ways. Medication may not be right for everyone and can cause side effects. Ask your doctor whether medication is appropriate for you.

Hormone Therapy

Women who have taken hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are at an increased risk for breast cancer. The two kinds of HRT are estrogen-only, and combination. According to breastcancer.org, estrogen-only HRT has been shown to raise breast cancer risk after taking it for 10 or more years. Combination HRT raises breast cancer risk by 75 percent. If you have taken HRT, it’s best to discuss with your doctor the risks and benefits it carries for you.

Vitamin D

Not only is this vitamin important for good bone health, but it might also help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. This nutrient is also important for healthy functioning of the immune, nervous, and muscle systems. To increase your intake of vitamin D, get more sunlight! This vitamin is made by the body in response to sunlight. It can also be found in fortified milk, eggs, and supplements. Your doctor can help you with optimal levels of vitamin D you should be ingesting.

Outlook

It’s important to remember that despite a healthy diet, supplementation, and avoiding as many risk factors as you can, breast cancer can still occur. The origins of the disease are not fully known, and there is not one definitive cause. Total prevention is impossible, but risk reduction is an active way to take charge of your health. 

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