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How To Prevent Getting Breast Cancer

Ten Lifestyle Changes That May Help

HEALTH FOCUS: How to prevent breast cancer

All breast cancer survivors live with the concern about a recurrence or a new cancer. This fear is usually the biggest worry of all. Many women feel that their body has betrayed them and therefore it takes time to trust it again.

Learning how to cope with fears of recurrence is important. Though your body has gone through many changes as a result of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, most women become healthy, strong and optimistic once again.

If I Am At Higher Risk What Are Early Treatments To Prevent Breast Cancer

If you know youre at higher risk of getting breast cancer such as if you have a strong family history or a known genetic mutation there are more aggressive steps you can take to lower your risk. This may include more frequent breast cancer screening with mammograms and/or breast MRIs, medications, or even surgery with a prophylactic mastectomy.

What Black Women Can Do

Breast cancer health disparities are complex. Some answers remain a mystery because Black women are underrepresented in clinical trials.

The importance of emphasizing preventative health strategies in Black communities cannot be overstated. Policies that increase access to mammography and quality healthcare facilities in Black communities are desperately needed.

There is a need to curb certain lifestyle patterns that contribute to an increased risk of breast cancer. The good news is, unlike genetic risk factors that cannot be altered, lifestyle changes can be made to reduce a persons risk of getting breast cancer.

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Testing For Breast Cancer

The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool is an interactive tool that allows health professionals to estimate a womans lifetime risk of developing invasive breast cancer over the next five years.

The tool can be useful, but it is not without limitations. While it has been validated for most groups including Black and Latinx women, it still underestimates the risk in some Black women.

The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool cannot provide an accurate risk assessment for:

  • Women over the age of 90
  • Women carrying a breast-cancer-producing mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • Women with a prior history of breast cancer, whether invasive or in-situ
  • Some other subgroups

That said, Black women should still consider using the risk assessment tool. Getting an estimate of risk does not predict who will or will not get breast cancer. Rather, it is a tool to be used with others to help assess risk and create or refine a breast cancer prevention plan.

Research has found that Black women who do not have children or have them after age 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.

The Following Are Protective Factors For Breast Cancer:

6 Best Ways To Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Reproductive history resulting in less exposure to estrogen

A womans reproductive history can affect the length of time her breast tissue is exposed to estrogen. Early onset of menstruation, late onset of menopause, later age at first pregnancy, and never having given birth have been linked to an increase in estrogen exposure and breast cancer risk. The following reproductive factors decrease the length of time a woman’s breast tissue is exposed to estrogen and may help prevent breast cancer:

  • Early pregnancy: Estrogen levels are lower during pregnancy. Women who have a full-term pregnancy before age 20 have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who have not had children or who give birth to their first child after age 35.
  • Breast-feeding: Estrogen levels may remain lower while a woman is breast-feeding. Women who breastfed have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who have had children but did not breastfeed.

Taking estrogen-only hormone therapy after hysterectomy, selective estrogen receptor modulators, or aromatase inhibitors and inactivators

Estrogen-only hormone therapy after hysterectomy

Hormone therapy with estrogen only may be given to women who have had a hysterectomy. In these women, estrogen-only therapy after menopause may decrease the risk of breast cancer. There is an increased risk of stroke and heart and blood vessel disease in postmenopausal women who take estrogen after a hysterectomy.

Selective estrogen receptor modulators

Ovarian ablation

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Change Your Eating Patterns

More and more evidence is piling up that intermittent fasting, or taking extended breaks from food, can provide bigtime health benefits.

While the evidence is preliminary, one 2016 study in JAMA Oncology found breast cancer patients who stayed away from food for 13 hours or more each day enjoyed a significant drop in recurrence risk compared to women who didn’t fast. It’s easier than it sounds: Basically, you put 13 hours or more between your last bite of food at night and your first the next day. Stop all eating by 8 PM, and you can have breakfast the next morning at 9 and still meet the study’s fasting requirements.

Get Smart About Hormones

“If you take them to manage menopausal symptoms, avoid ones that contain progesterone, and limit their use to less than three years,” says McTiernan. Synthetic progesterone, or progestin, is tied to higher breast-cancer risk. She also warns against over-the-counter hormonal gels and creams they’re no better than prescription ones.”

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For Women At Very High Risk Of Breast Cancer

For women in this group, removing both breasts before cancer is diagnosed can greatly reduce the risk of getting breast cancer.

Unfortunately theres no way to know for sure ahead of time if a woman will benefit from this surgery. Most women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation will develop breast cancer at some point. Having a prophylactic mastectomy before the cancer develops might add many years to their lives. But not all women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations develop breast cancer. For some women the surgery might not have been helpful. Although they might still get some important benefits from the surgery such as peace of mind, they would also have to deal with its aftereffects, which might include physical and emotional side effects.

Know Your Options If You Are At A High Risk For Breast Cancer

How your diet can prevent breast cancer

Talking to your doctor is the best way to understand your risk factors for breast cancer. If you have a higher risk of getting breast cancer, there are options that can help with early detection and prevention. However, its important to remember that none of these choices are guaranteed to completely eliminate your chance of breast cancer.

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Your Personal History Of Breast Cancer

If youve been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past, you are more likely to develop a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is not considered a recurrence but a new breast cancer.

What to do: Follow your cancer teams instructions on monitoring to stay on top of this risk. Ask your doctor whether you should see a genetic counselor.

Natural Ways To Prevent Breast Cancer

To prevent breast cancer you need to take action. Otherwise, your odds of getting breast cancer, the disease women fear the most, are 1 in 8.

In spite of the millions of dollars spent on research and new drugs, the overall odds have stayed the same. But the following tips can greatly improve your own odds.

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Breast Cancer Is The Second Most Common Type Of Cancer In American Women

Women in the United States get breast cancer more than any other type of cancer except skin cancer. Breast cancer is second to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death in American women. Deaths from breast cancer have decreased slightly each year between 2013 and 2018. Breast cancer also occurs in men, but the number of new cases is small.

How To Reduce Risk Of Breast Cancer

How to Prevent Breast Cancer

The highest risk for being diagnosed with breast cancer is being a woman. The second highest risk is age. The older you become, the higher your risk goes up. There are lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of getting the disease and help find the disease early.

Each woman has her own set of risk factors. Each woman can create her own plan with her clinician to lower her risk of getting the disease. For men who are at risk, this is also true.

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Be Aware Of The Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer

Pay attention to your breasts. Do you notice lumps or thickening in your breast or underarm area? Is one of your nipples turning in or is there blood or fluid coming from it? Is the skin on your breast flaking? These are some possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer but there can be others.

So if you notice any changes in your breasts or nipples, its a worth seeing your primary care doctor. Theyll help identify what you should do next whether thats getting a diagnostic mammogram or something else.

Tamoxifen And Raloxifene For Women At High Risk

Although not commonly thought of as a healthybehavior, taking the prescription drugs tamoxifenand raloxifene can significantly lower the risk ofbreast cancer in woman at high risk of the disease.Approved by the FDA for breast cancer prevention,these powerful drugs can have side effects, sothey arent right for everyone. If you think youreat high risk, talk to your doctor to see if tamoxifen or raloxifene may be right for you.

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Take Your Prescribed Meds

“Being compliant with medications that have been prescribed is critically important to giving a woman the lowest possible risk of recurrence,” Dr. Port says.

Multiple studies, including a 2016 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, have shown anti-estrogen agents and aromatase inhibitors can block breast cancer from coming back. But because of side effects and other factors, a lot of women stop taking these meds, or don’t take them as prescribed, Dr. Port says.

Get Smart: Know Your Risk

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Prevention has to start with knowledge. Women at an increased risk of breast cancer may need to start screening earlier or be screened more frequently than women of average risk. You might be at an increased risk if you:

  • Are overweight or obese or are not physically active
  • Have mutations of BRCA-1, BRCA-2 or PALB-2 genes
  • Have a family or personal history of breast, colorectal or ovarian cancer
  • Began menstrual period before 12 or began menopause after 55
  • Have never had children or had your first child after age 30
  • Are currently using or have recently used birth control pills
  • Have used hormone replacement therapy for more than 10 years

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Alcohol Intake Should Be Limited

Studies show that drinking alcohol increases a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer. It also triggers the growth of certain hormones in her body, which can cause cancer. Women who regularly consume three alcoholic drinks a week have a 15% higher chance of developing breast cancer. As a result, the common advice is to limit ourselves to one drink each day, as even tiny amounts can be dangerous.

Medicines To Prevent Breast Cancer

How signicantly can breast cancer prevention drugslower a woman’s risk? Here’s a look at the numbers.

  • For every 1,000 women at increased risk for breast cancer, treatment with tamoxifen or raloxifene would prevent seven to nine cases of invasive breast cancer.
  • Out of 1,000 women taking those drugs, an extra four to seven women would develop blood clots, and there would be four extra cases of uterine cancer per 1,000 women taking tamoxifen.

Many women who could benefit from breast cancer prevention drugs aren’t taking them.

Many new and potent medicines to prevent breast cancer have become available in the past 20 years. Surprisingly, however, many womeneven those at high risk for the diseaseare not taking advantage of these medicines.

Drugs such as tamoxifen , raloxifene , and exemestane can reduce the odds of developing breast cancer for many women at risk. “These drugs have been shown to prevent the occurrence of invasive and pre-invasive breast cancers,” says Dr. Paul Goss, director of breast cancer research at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

“It isn’t just cancer that’s prevented,” Dr. Goss says. “It’s precancer and abnormal mammograms. That leads to fewer biopsies. There are a lot of spin-off benefits.”

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Other Options To Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

If youre concerned about your breast cancer risk, talk to your health care provider. They can help you estimate your risk based on your age, family history, and other factors. If you are at increased risk, you might consider taking medicines that can help lower your risk. Your health care provider might also suggest you have more intensive screening for breast cancer, which might include starting screening at a younger age or having other tests in addition to mammography.

There are also other things that all women can do to help lower their risk of breast cancer, such as being active, staying at a healthy weight, and limiting or not drinking alcohol. For more information, see Can I Lower My Risk of Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer Prevention Patient Version

Breast Health 101
On This Page

Cancerprevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. By preventing cancer, the number of new cases of cancer in a group or population is lowered. Hopefully, this will reduce the burden of cancer and lower the number of deaths caused by cancer.

Cancer is not a single disease but a group of related diseases. Our genes, lifestyle, and the environment around us work together to increase or decrease our risk of getting cancer. Each persons cancer risk is made up of a combination of these factors.

Anything that increases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer risk factor anything that decreases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer protective factor.

Some risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. Forexample, both smoking and inheriting certain genes are risk factors for sometypes of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Regular exercise and a healthy diet may be protective factors for some types of cancer. Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may lower your risk but it doesnot mean that you will not get cancer.

Different ways to prevent cancer are being studied, including:

  • Changing lifestyle or eating habits.
  • Avoiding things known to cause cancer.
  • Taking medicine to treat a precancerouscondition or to keep cancer from starting.

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Avoid Drinking Too Much

“Drinking in moderation”that is, up to three or four drinks per week”is probably reasonable and safe,” Dr. Port says. But drinking every day should be avoided, she adds.

A 2016 study in the International Journal of Cancer found survivors who downed more than one drink per day were 28% more likely to suffer a recurrence.

This is your body on alcohol:

Receiving Care At A Breast Health Center

Some clinics, including the , Regions Hospital Breast Health Center and Lakeview Breast Health Center, focus entirely on breast health care. These locations offer mammograms and advanced testing techniques. And should you need treatment for breast cancer, theyll coordinate care with oncologists, surgeons and other specialists.

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How Much Exercise Reduces Breast Cancer Risk

According to the American Cancer Society, you can reduce your risk of cancer if your weekly schedule includes 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate exercise or 1 to 2 hours of vigorous exercise.

Getting in 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day is a good goal to have. Possible activities include walking, slow dancing and even cutting the grass.

Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables And Limit Alcohol

Acting early to prevent breast cancer

A healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and limit alcohol. While moderate drinking can be good for the heart in older adults, even low levels of drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer. And with other risks of alcohol, not drinking is the overall healthiest choice.

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Understanding Your Risk Of Breast Cancer

Several breast cancer risk assessment tools have been developed to help a woman estimate her chance of developing breast cancer. The best studied is the Gail model, which is available on the National Cancer Institutes website at After you enter some personal and family information, including race/ethnicity, the tool provides you with a 5-year and lifetime estimate of the risk of developing invasive breast cancer. Because it only asks for information about breast cancer in first-degree family members and does not include their ages at diagnosis, the tool works best at estimating risk in women without a strong inherited breast cancer risk. For some women, other ways of determining the risk of breast cancer may work better. For example, women with a strong family history of breast cancer risk should consider talking to a genetic counselor.

It is important to talk with your doctor about how to estimate your personal risk of breast cancer and to discuss risk-reducing or prevention options .

Breast Cancer: Risk Factors And Prevention

Have questions about breast cancer? Ask here.

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing breast cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

A risk factor is anything that increases a persons chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

Most breast cancers are sporadic, meaning they develop from damage to a persons genes that occurs by chance after they are born. There is no risk of the person passing this gene on to their children, as the underlying cause of sporadic breast cancer is environmental factors.

Inherited breast cancers are less common, making up 5% to 10% of cancers. Inherited breast cancer occurs when gene changes called mutations are passed down within a family from parent to child. Many of those mutations are in tumor suppressor genes, such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and PALB2. These genes normally keep cells from growing out of control and turning into cancer. But when these cells have a mutation, it can cause them to grow out of control.

The following factors may raise a womans risk of developing breast cancer:

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