Certain lifestyle recommendations, such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and following a nutritious diet, may help reduce your risk of breast cancer.
Currently, there’s no way to prevent breast cancer. However, there are several proven risk factors for breast cancer, including factors such as weight and physical activity level, that you can control. This means that it’s possible to reduce your risk of breast cancer through lifestyle changes.
Here are 10 recommendations for reducing your risk of breast cancer.
Physical activity has been shown to help reduce the risk of breast cancer. It plays a part in maintaining a healthy weight. Plus, it can strengthen your muscles and heart for an overall boost to your health.
Try to get at least 30 minutes of movement every day. Healthy adults are advised to schedule 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly.
If you’re not already active, you don’t have to jump into long fitness sessions right away. You can start small and work up to longer and more intense activities. Often, simple exercises such as nightly walks can help you begin to build healthy fitness habits.
Achieving or maintaining a healthy weight is the best way to reduce the risks. Your doctor can help you develop a weight loss plan that makes sense for your current weight, health, and lifestyle. However, many people are able to reach weight loss goals by getting regular exercise and following a healthy diet.
A nutritious diet can do more than help you maintain a healthy weight. The food you eat can also help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Research suggests that a diet high in certain foods can be very beneficial. This includes:
- whole grains
- nuts, seeds, and other plant-based proteins
- high fiber foods
- leafy greens
- cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables
Food to avoid
Studies have found that certain foods can be harmful and might increase the risk of breast cancer. This includes:
- animal fats
- red meat
- deli and other processed meats
Smoking is linked to an increased risk of many types of cancer, including breast cancer. If you smoke, quitting smoking can help you reduce that risk.
The link between alcohol and breast cancer is still being studied. However, researchers know that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer. That risk is higher for people who have between 2 and 3 drinks per day than for people who don’t drink.
To reduce your risk of breast cancer, doctors recommend that people have no more than 1 drink in a single day.
Breastfeeding has a protective effect. Studies have linked breastfeeding to a reduced risk of breast cancer, possibly because it decreases the total number of menstrual cycles.
Breastfeeding isn’t an option for everyone. However, if you’re able to breastfeed, it might reduce your breast cancer risk.
Birth control medication and hormone replacement therapy( HRT) after menopause are common, but they can have risks. Some research links birth control and HRT to an increased risk of breast cancer. However, in many cases, the benefits of birth control or hormone replacement therapy far outweigh the small increase in breast cancer risk.
It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about these treatment options and your risk of breast cancer. If you’re already at high risk, they might be able to recommend other options or lower your dose.
Your family history of breast cancer is one of the most important risk factors. It’s helpful to know if anyone in your family has ever had breast cancer or any other type of cancer. This includes parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
If breast cancer runs in your family, it’s a good idea to get tested for inherited changes to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Knowing this information and talking about it with your doctor is the first step in making a prevention plan. Your doctor can recommend screenings, lifestyle adjustments, and more, to help reduce your risk.
Your personal risk is a combination of risk factors, such as having the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, having a family history of breast cancer, having dense breast tissue, and having a previous breast cancer diagnosis.
If your personal risk is high, you and your doctor can discuss ways to reduce your risk. This might include medications, increased screenings, preventive breast removal surgery, or ovary removal surgery.
Following regular screening guidelines is one of the best ways to help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Mammograms can catch abnormalities in breast tissue early and can find cancer before signs and symptoms appear.
- women with a high breast cancer risk talk with their doctor about often screening is needed
- Women over 40 receive annual screenings if they choose
- women between 45 and 54 receive an annual screening
- women over 55 receive screenings every 2 years for as long as they remain healthy
Being aware of the symptoms of breast cancer is another important way you can take control of your risk of breast cancer. By knowing the symptoms, you can monitor yourself at home and report any changes to your doctor. This can help detect cancer in its early stages.
Breast cancer symptoms
Symptoms of breast cancer include:
- a new lump that can be felt in the breast tissue
- swelling in the breast tissue
- breast pain
- nipple pain
- breast skin dimpling
- nipples turning inward
- nipple discharge
- skin on the breast or nipples that is red, dry, or flaking
- swollen lymph nodes near the collarbone or underarm
Often, these symptoms can be caused by conditions that are not cancer. However, it’s important to make a medical appointment if you experience any of them. Diagnosing breast cancer early will give you the highest chance for a positive treatment outcome.
Who is most at risk for breast cancer?
There are several known risk factors for breast cancer. Having multiple risk factors increases your risk of breast cancer. Risk factors include:
- being over 50
- having inherited changes to the BRCA1 and BCRA2 genes
- starting menstruation before age 12
- starting menopause after age 55
- having a previous breast cancer diagnosis
- having dense breast tissue
- having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- having previous radiation therapy treatment
- having been exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in the womb
Can melatonin help reduce the risk of breast cancer?
Melatonin is a supplement that’s most known as a sleep aid. Some studies have linked melatonin to a reduction in the risk of breast cancer. However, this link hasn’t been proven, and more research is needed. The research on melatonin is promising, but there’s not enough evidence to say for sure if it can help reduce the risk.
If I have dense breasts, should I have yearly ultrasounds in addition to mammograms?
Currently, there’s no official recommendation for yearly ultrasounds or MRIs in addition to mammograms for people with dense breast tissue. However, you and your doctor can discuss this option. It might be a good idea, especially if you have additional risk factors, such as a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
What medications help prevent breast cancer?
There are currently two medications approved by the FDA to help prevent breast cancer in women who have a 1.67% chance or greater of developing breast cancer within the next 5 years:
- Tamoxifen (Soltamax)
- Raloxifene hydrochloride (Evista)
These medications work by reducing the activity of estrogen in the body. You and your doctor can discuss if these medications are an appropriate option for you.
There’s no way to completely predict or prevent breast cancer. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. This includes making changes to your lifestyle, such as increasing physical activity, losing weight, quitting smoking, and eating a healthy diet.
Preventive measures, such as annual screenings and learning your family history, can also help you manage your risk.
If you have a high risk of breast cancer, you and your doctor can discuss risk reduction options. For some people, treatments such as medications or preventive surgery are good options. Your doctor can help you decide what’s best for you.