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How To Decrease Risk Of Breast Cancer

Factors That Affect Breast Cancer Risk

5 ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer

Some factors affect breast cancer risk a great deal and others by only a small amount.

Understanding which factors may affect your risk of breast cancer can help you work with your health care provider to address any concerns you have and develop a breast cancer screening plan thats right for you.

Our Breast Cancer Risk Factors Table compares risk factors by level of risk and strength of evidence.

Factors that affect breast cancer risk are listed below alphabetically.

Age is a risk factor for breast cancer in both women and men. The older a person is, the more likely they are to get breast cancer.

Learn more about age and breast cancer risk.

Both the age when a woman gives birth to her first child and the number of children a woman has affect her risk of breast cancer.

Women who give birth to their first child at age 35 or younger tend to get a protective benefit from pregnancy .

In general, the more children a woman has given birth to, the lower her risk of breast cancer tends to be .

Learn more about age at first childbirth, number of childbirths and breast cancer risk.

Starting menstrual periods at a young age is linked to a small increase in breast cancer risk .

For example, women who begin their periods before age 11 have about a 15-20 percent higher breast cancer risk compared to those who begin their periods at age 15 or older .

Going through menopause at a later age is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer .

Learn more about breast cancer in men.

Surgery For High Risk Breast Cancer

Surgery to remove both breasts may be a possible option for women at very high risk. This is known as a bilateral risk reducing mastectomy. Bilateral means both sides and mastectomy means removal of the breast.

It is important you meet a genetic counsellor before you make a decision about having surgery. They will talk about your own personal risks and explain other options, for example screening for high risk women. Your surgeon and specialist nurse will tell you about the surgery. They will also talk about your feelings and any concerns you may have.

During the operation the surgeon removes as much breast tissue as possible but its not possible to remove it all. So, although surgery lowers your risk it does not go away completely.

You may be able to have breast reconstruction during the surgery, or at a later date. This is surgery to make new breasts using tissue from elsewhere in your body or implants.

Choosing to have risk reducing surgery can be a difficult time for you and your family, so it is important to ask questions. Your doctors and nurses will support you when making your decisions and throughout your treatment.

Speak to your doctor if you have family members with breast cancer and you think you might be at risk of developing it.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Some of the factors associated with breast cancer risk cant be changed, such as age and genetics. Other factors, such as lack of exercise, smoking, and eating unhealthy food can be changed by choosing healthier lifestyle options. Learn more about breast cancer risk factors and steps you can take to help protect your breast health.

Established risks:

Common Fears With No Evidence: Antiperspirants and Bras

Occasionally, media stories or posts on social media will claim that antiperspirants and bras increase breast cancer risk. There is no scientific evidence to support either of these rumors. Learn more.

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Who Should A Woman Talk To When Considering Surgery To Reduce Her Risk Of Breast Cancer

The decision to have any surgery to reduce the risk of breast cancer is a major one. A woman who is at high risk of breast cancer may wish to get a second opinion on risk-reducing surgery as well as on alternatives to surgery. For more information on getting a second opinion, see NCI’s Finding Health Care Services page.

A woman who is considering prophylactic mastectomy may also want to talk with a surgeon who specializes in breast reconstruction. Other health care professionals, including a breast health specialist, medical social worker, or cancer clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, can also help a woman consider her options for reducing her risk of breast cancer.

Many factors beyond the risk of disease itself may influence a womanâs decision about whether to undergo risk-reducing surgery. For example, for women who have been diagnosed with cancer in one breast, these factors can include distress about the possibility of having to go through cancer treatment a second time and the worry and inconvenience associated with long-term breast surveillance . For this reason, women who are considering risk-reducing surgery may want to talk with other women who have considered or had the procedure. Support groups can help connect women with others who have had similar cancer experiences. The searchable NCI database National Organizations That Offer Cancer-Related Services has listings for many support groups.

Selected References

Alcohol And Breast Cancer Risk

Learn how to lower your risk of breast cancer

Drinking more than one alcoholic beverage a day may increase the risk of breast cancer. This risk grows with the amount of alcohol consumed. One drink is defined as 10 grams of alcohol, which typically means one of the following:

  • Twelve-ounce beer
  • Four-ounce glass of wine
  • Shot of hard liquor or spirits

With each drink you consume in excess of seven per week, your risk may increase. Women who drink more than seven drinks a week can lower their risk by lowering their alcohol intake.

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The Importance Of Being Breast Aware

We can help to reduce our breast cancer risk by eating healthily, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation. Unfortunately there is little we can do about some of the other risks, apart from being aware of them. But you can be aware of breast changes to look out for. It is important to attend for breast screening tests with BreastCheck when you are invited.

Watch this short video to learn how to check your breasts:

Make Time For An Outdoor Walk

The benefits are twofold. A study of nearly 60,000 postmenopausal women published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2014 found that those who consistently walked about 35 minutes a day were 10 percent less likely to develop cancer. And a 2017 study out of the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, saw early signs that the same blue light wavelengths that regulate your circadian rhythm may stop subcutaneous fat cells from storing too much of the stuff. Most women add this form of fat as they gain weight, says McTiernan, and being overweight or obese raises the chances of breast cancer postmenopause. To keep your BMI healthy and breast-cancer risk in check, get regular moderate-intensity exercise, like two and a half hours a week of brisk walking, swimming, or bikingand if you can, log some of it outside.

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Be Wary Of Hormonal Treatments

Extra estrogen and progesterone exposure are also the reasons why women should give careful consideration to hormonal treatmentsincluding hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills. There is good news for pill users, however: a womans breast cancer risk returns to baseline levels by the time shes been off the pill for about 10 years. For many women, one or both of these treatments might be worth the modest increase in breast cancer risk, given the benefits of contraception and menopausal symptom relief.

Know Your Tissue Type

How Can I Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?

The makeup of all breasts is different. If yours have less fatty flesh and more milk glands and supportive tissue, theyâre called âdense.â That can raise your breast cancer risk and make abnormal cells harder to spot on scans. Mammograms are one way to measure your tissue type. If you have dense breasts, take other steps to lower your odds for breast cancer. You may need to get screened more often or use more advanced screening tests.

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Reducing Risk Of Recurrence

There are a number of myths regarding what may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence, as well as evidence-based information that is easily overlooked. We will look at measures that may reduce your risk based on credible studies, as well as practices that are unclear that you may wish to discuss with your oncologist.

In some cases, though the benefit on recurrence risk is still not clear, your quality of life may be improved. And living well with cancer is as important as extending your life with cancer.

Before talking about measures that may help lower recurrence risk, itâs important to not add to the stigma of the disease. Some people do absolutely everything right and their breast cancer recurs anyway. Similarly, some people eat poorly, smoke, and drink heavily and their cancer never recurs. While you may be able to decrease your risk of recurrence to a degree, dealing with breast cancer is dealing with a mutated clone of cells that doesnât think or follow the rules.

For those who have a recurrence, it doesnât mean they have done anything wrong. It simply means cancer is being cancer.

What Are The Potential Harms Of Risk

As with any other major surgery, bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and bilateral prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy have potential complications or harms, such as bleeding or infection . Also, both surgeries are irreversible.

Bilateral prophylactic mastectomy can also affect a womanâs psychological well-being due to a change in body image and the loss of normal breast functions. Although most women who choose to have this surgery are satisfied with their decision, they can still experience anxiety and concerns about body image . The most common psychological side effects include difficulties with body appearance, with feelings of femininity, and with sexual relationships . Women who undergo total mastectomies lose nipple sensation, which may hinder sexual arousal.

Bilateral prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy causes a sudden drop in estrogen production, which will induce early menopause in a premenopausal woman . Surgical menopause can cause an abrupt onset of menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, insomnia, anxiety, and depression, and some of these symptoms can be severe. The long-term effects of surgical menopause include decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, and decreased bone density.

Women who have severe menopausal symptoms after undergoing bilateral prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy may consider using short-term menopausal hormone therapy after surgery to alleviate these symptoms.

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Find Out Your Family History

Women with a strong family history of cancer can take special steps to protect themselves, so its important for women to know their family history. You may be at high risk of breast cancer if you have a mother or sister who developed breast or ovarian cancer or if you have multiplefamily members who developed breast, ovarian or prostate cancer. A doctor or genetic counselor can help you understand your family history of the disease.

It Is Not Clear Whether The Following Affect The Risk Of Breast Cancer:

Steps Mothers and Daughters Can Take to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Hormonal contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives contain estrogen or estrogen and progestin. Some studies have shown that women who are current or recent users of hormonal contraceptives may have a slight increase in breast cancer risk. Other studies have not shown an increased risk of breast cancer in women using hormonal contraceptives.

In one study, the risk of breast cancer slightly increased the longer a woman used hormonal contraceptives. Another study showed that the slight increase in breast cancer risk decreased over time when women stopped using hormonal contraceptives.

More studies are needed to know whether hormonal contraceptives affect a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

Chemicals in the environment

Scientists are studying whether exposure to chemicals in the environment may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Studies of this kind can be difficult to conduct and interpret for many reasons:

These reasons make it hard to know which chemicals, if any, may increase the risk of breast cancer. More studies are needed to know whether chemicals in the environment affect a woman’s risk of breast cancer. For more information, see Environmental Carcinogens and Cancer Risk.

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Bone Health And Vitamin D

It’s important for women of all ages to consume adequate amounts of calcium and Vitamin D to maintain bone health and this may be even more crucial for postmenopausal women due to their increased risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D has promising health benefits alone.

Healthy levels of these nutrients can be achieved by:

  • Consuming low-fat dairy products, fortified soymilk, oily fish , and eggs
  • Receiving 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight daily in addition to a calcium supplement of 1000-1200mg with up to 2,000 IUs total of Vitamin D3 daily. Take these together at your largest meals for increased absorption.

Because Vitamin D deficiency is common and may increase the risk of cancer you may want to ask your doctor to check your blood level where 35-40 ng/mL is considered an optimal level.

Most Breast Cancers Are Not Genetic

Only five percent of breast cancers are related to genetics and even then, that doesnt mean that all women with the BRAC genes that make them more vulnerable, will go on to develop breast cancer.

Though you cant alter risk factors like your age or parents, simple lifestyle changes can do a great deal to protect you from developing breast cancer.

One of the least discussed but most important steps is to reduce risks caused by too much estrogen.

In my experience working with women, estrogen dominance is very common, but often women dont know the signs or even realize that ED is a concern or that it kick starts substantial health risks.

You can learn how to rebalance your hormones with food in my book, Cooking for Hormone Balance.

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Address Any Sleep Problems You Have

According to a 2017 study, women who experience regular sleep difficulties, as well as those who have a prolonged sleep duration have a greater all-cause as well as breast cancer mortality rate.

There are a number of different types of sleep disorders, and these, in turn, are often addressed in different ways. For starters, practicing good sleep hygiene habits can sometimes resolve minor sleep problems.

If problems persist, however, talking to a sleep expert may be in order. We often think of sleep as inconsequential , but given the link between sleep disturbances and survival it might be considered as important as some of the treatments we use to battle the disease.

Have Your Vitamin D Level Checked

Lower your risk of breast cancer

While there has been some controversy over vitamin D levels and breast cancer, some studies have found that women who have low 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels have a higher recurrence risk. The benefits of vitamin D, however, go beyond reducing recurrence, and getting adequate vitamin D may improve your quality of life while living with breast cancer.

Many people ask about whether or not they should use a supplement, but fortunately, a simple blood test can determine your levels, and whether they are deficient, low normal, or adequate.

Even if the laboratory range for vitamin D at your cancer center is wide , some researchers believe a level of 50 or greater is optimal in those who have had cancer.

Getting vitamin D via dietary sources is challenging, at least to get the optimal 2000 IU/day recommended by some .

Sunshine is also a source of vitamin D, though excess sun exposure is important to avoid for other reasons. .

If your healthcare provider recommends a supplement, it’s important to purchase a good product to reduce your mercury exposure. And, too much of a good thing is not better. One potential side effect of taking excess vitamin D is painful kidney stones.

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If You Smoke Stop If You Drink Limit Your Intake

This ones pretty straightforward. For years weve known the health costs that come with smoking. Smoking can weaken the immune system, one of our bodies best defenses against cancer, and can damage or change a cells DNA, which can lead to the growth of a tumor. Quitting isnt always easy. For tips to help you or someone you love quit smoking, visit our website.

Drinking alcohol is linked to breast and several other cancers. Once ingested, your body breaks it down into a chemical that can damage or change a cells DNA, potentially leading to the growth of a tumor. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that if you drink, you limit your consumption to one drink a day for women and two a day for men.

Diet And Breast Cancer Risk

Eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day may lower your breast cancer risk. The natural vitamin antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of cancer slightly. You should also eat foods that are low in saturated fat.

Taking vitamin supplements does not seem to lower the risk of cancer. This includes vitamin D and calcium supplements.

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Be Mindful Of Your Environment Including Household Chemicals

It’s long been suspected that environmental exposures, including the chemicals we are exposed to in everything from household cleaners to cosmetics, may play a role both in breast cancer risk and recurrence. While it’s difficult to study , we are learning that practicing caution is wise.

A 2017 review looked at the evidence to date connecting breast cancer and the environment. Some compounds, such as PCBs , may raise the risk of recurrence. Others may alter the regulation of genes involved in cell growth, apoptosis , and much more. Endocrine disrupting chemicals can mimic the function of hormones in our bodies, and it’s well known that the hormone estrogen should be avoided to reduce breast cancer recurrence, at least for people with hormone positive tumors.

There is a great amount of information out there of varying degrees of concern, but the important thing to note is that it’s relatively easy to avoid concerning chemicals . Most household cleaners can easily be replaced with baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar .

The environmental working group has a website where you can search on thousands of personal care products . And adding a few houseplants to your home can help to absorb many indoor air carcinogens with indoor air thought to be more of a concern that outdoor air pollution.


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