While many of the most critical risk factors for breast cancer are beyond your control, such as age, family history and medical history, there are some ways that you can reduce your overall risk of getting the disease.
RISK FACTORS YOU CAN CONTROL
Weight: Being overweight is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, especially for women after menopause. Fat tissue is the body’s main source of estrogen after menopause, when the ovaries stop producing the hormone. Having more fat tissue creates higher estrogen levels, which can increase breast cancer risk.
Diet: Diet is a suspected risk factor for many types of cancer, including breast cancer, but studies have yet to prove which types of foods increase risk. It is a good idea to restrict sources of red meat and other animal fats (including dairy fat in cheese, milk, and ice cream) because they may contain hormones, other growth factors, antibiotics and pesticides. Some researchers believe that eating too much cholesterol and other fats are also risk factors for cancer and, studies show that eating a lot of red and/or processed meats is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. A low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables is generally recommended.
Exercise: Evidence is on the rise that exercise can reduce breast cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends engaging in 45-60 minutes of physical exercise 5 or more days a week.
Alcohol consumption: Studies have shown that breast cancer risk increases with the amount of alcohol a woman drinks. Alcohol can limit your liver’s ability to control blood levels of the hormone estrogen, which, in turn, can increase risk.
Smoking: Smoking is associated with a small increase in breast cancer risk.
Exposure to estrogen: Because the female hormone estrogen stimulates breast cell growth, exposure to estrogen over long periods of time, without any breaks, can increase the risk of breast cancer. Some of these risk factors are under your control, such as:
taking combined hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone; HRT) for several years or more, or taking estrogen alone for more than 10 years
regularly drinking alcohol
Recent oral contraceptive use: Using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) appears to slightly increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer however, only for a limited period of time. Women who stopped using oral contraceptives more than 10 years ago do not appear to have any increased breast cancer risk.
Stress and anxiety: There is no clear proof that stress and anxiety can increase breast cancer risk. However, anything you can do to reduce your stress and to enhance your comfort, joy, and satisfaction can have a major effect on your quality of life. So-called “mindful measures” (such as meditation, yoga, visualization exercises and prayer) may be valuable additions to your daily or weekly routine. Some research suggests that these practices may also strengthen the immune system.