According to cancer.gov, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in American women (skin cancer is the first), and it is the second cause of cancer death in American women (lung cancer is the first). It’s no wonder so many women are wondering how to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
By avoiding certain risk factors and at the same time increasing protective factors, women can work with their bodies to help prevent breast cancer. Each person is unique, so it is important to consult with a physician so that you can best lower your personal risk (we suggest genomic testing to establish your genetic risk factors and then working with your physician to develop a personalized care plan, taking into consideration your genomic test results, your family history and your lifestyle). Doing your own research is important, however, so we have mapped out some general guidelines to follow that can help most people reduce their risk.
Age – The main risk factor for breast cancer is older age since the likelihood of getting the disease increases with age.
Personal or Family History of Breast Cancer – If you have had a history of breast cancer or benign breast disease, or if your mother, sister or daughter have had breast cancer, you are at an increased risk.
Inherited Gene Changes – A genomic test (taken with a saliva sample) can reveal if you have inherited gene changes in the BRCA1, BRCA2, and other genes, putting you at a greater risk for breast cancer.
Dense Breast Tissue – If a mammogram shows that you have dense breast tissue, you could be at an increased risk of breast cancer depending on the level of density. This can be a result of heredity, but it has also shown to occur in women who have not had any children, women who had their first pregnancy late in life, women who take postmenopausal hormones, or women who drink alcohol on a regular basis.
Increased Exposure to Estrogen – When a woman is exposed to estrogen over a long time period or if her estrogen levels are increased, she is at a greater risk for breast cancer. This can happen when a woman starts menopause at a later age or if she began menstruating at the age of 11 or younger since the more years a woman menstruates, the more her breast tissue is exposed to estrogen. It can also happen as a result of never having a baby or having a first child later in life since estrogen levels are lower during pregnancy.
Hormone Replacement Therapy – Studies have shown that women who receive hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are at an increased risk for beast cancer, and that their risk decreases when they stop the treatment.
Obesity & Alcohol Consumption – Women who are obese or who drink alcohol on a regular basis are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
Exercise – Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, especially for women who exercise four or more hours per week and for women who are premenopausal with normal to low body weight.
Limit Alcohol – Your risk of cancer increases as the amount of alcohol you drink increases. It is recommended that woman drink less than one drink per day.
Manage Your Weight – Obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer, especially for women who are obese after menopause.
Don’t Smoke – There is evidence to suggest that smoking increases your risk of breast cancer, especially in premenopausal women.
Breastfeeding – Estrogen levels are thought to be reduced during the time a woman breastfeeds, therefore it can lower the risk of breast cancer since prolonged exposure to estrogen increases risk.
Limit the Use of Hormone Therapy – The use of combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years and/or taken in high doses has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.
Limit Radiation Exposure & Environmental Pollution – Some research has suggested that there is a link between radiation exposure and breast cancer, making it important to limit medical-imaging tests.