Breast Cancer Prevention – How To Reduce Your Risks

Breast cancer is a serious condition. On average, approximately one in eight women¹ will develop some form of invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.

In 2021, an estimate of about 281,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer is likely to be diagnosed in U.S. women, along with 2,650 new cases in men².

For women, breast cancer death rates are higher than every other cancer except for lung cancer.

There is no one risk factor for breast cancer; instead, a combination of factors can contribute to a person’s risk. 

While there are some risks that you can’t control, such as age, sex, dense breast tissue, family history of breast cancer, and genetic mutations, there are risk factors within your control.

Some risk factors for breast cancer that you can change include: 

  • A lack of physical activity

  • Being underweight or overweight, especially after menopause

  • Excessive hormone therapy

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Not breastfeeding

  • A history of non-full-term pregnancies

  • Becoming pregnant after the age of 30

  • Smoking

  • Radiation exposure

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Steps you can take

Now that you know the risk factors for breast cancer, there are many ways to help reduce your risk, including: 

1. Try to be more physically active

Physical activity can help individuals maintain an ideal weight, increase muscle mass, and improve heart health - all of which can help prevent breast cancer.

Most healthy adults should try to get in at least 15 minutes of moderate cardio activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.

It can also help to add in moderate strength training at least two times a week.

2. Maintain a healthy weight

If your weight is in the normal range, work to keep yourself at that weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise. If you need to lose or gain weight, ask your GP about diet and exercise strategies. 

3. Limit hormone therapy after menopause 

There may be a link between postmenopausal combination hormone therapy and an increase in your risk of breast cancer.

Compare postmenopausal hormone therapy's potential benefits and risks with your doctor to decide what’s best for you. 

Postmenopausal symptoms can be quite miserable for many people, but you might find that you can keep your symptoms in check with therapies that are not hormone-based.

If there is no way to avoid it, talk with your doctor about your dose and how long you should be taking hormone-based therapy.

4. Limit your alcohol intake 

The more alcoholic beverages you drink, the more substantial your risk is of developing breast (or other) cancer.

It is recommended to stick to one drink or less per day. The less you drink in general, the lower your risk is of developing breast cancer.

5. Breastfeed after pregnancy

Not only is breastfeeding usually the healthiest choice for your baby, but breastfeeding is exceptionally healthy for you as well.

For women who choose to breastfeed their baby longer than one year, their risks of developing breast cancer are lower³. And, the longer you breastfeed your child, the greater your prevention is. That’s because the more often your breasts make milk, the less of a chance your cells have to deviate. 

Additionally, nursing mothers tend to have fewer menstrual cycles, resulting in lower estrogen levels.

Not to mention, women who are actively breastfeeding tend to avoid alcohol and cigarettes and eat more nutritiously.

6. Stop smoking

Studies⁴ have shown that women who have smoked have a 14% increased risk of developing breast cancer than those who have never smoked. And, the lower your age when you started smoking and the length of time you have smoked, the greater your risk. 

However, the good news is that the longer you have gone without smoking, the lower your risk is of developing breast cancer.

For example, that same study found if you have quit for more than 30 years, your risk of developing breast cancer is only increased by 10%.

While breast (and other) cancer cannot be 100% prevented, following the above advice will help to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. 

Screening 

It is extremely important to screen for breast cancer if you are in a high-risk category. You should speak with your doctor to understand your risk. 

Formal screenings, such as mammograms and diagnostic mammograms, are necessary to prevent and detect early signs of breast cancer. After the age of 40, it is recommended to get a mammogram once per year. 

The age guidelines from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) look like the following:

A table outlining the guidelines for breast cancer screening across different age groups.

In addition to mammograms, you can also receive MRI screenings if there is a significant genetic risk of breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about the necessity of MRIs to see if you apply. 

You can easily schedule a breast cancer screening at a hospital, clinic, or GP’s office. The majority of health insurance plans cover mammogram screenings for women over the age of 40.

Your doctor may also perform a clinical breast exam by feeling around your breast tissue for lumps.

Mammograms

One of the best ways to catch breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages is to get a mammogram.

A mammogram is a type of x-ray that makes it possible for radiologists to find and identify changes in breast tissue that are often associated with breast cancer and tumors.

By getting a mammogram, your doctor will be able to see or detect signs of breast cancer early on when the tumor is very small and can’t be felt with breast examinations. At this stage, the cancer is easiest to treat. 

It is recommended to begin receiving screening mammograms once per year after the age of 40. However, after the age of 45, it is critical to receive annual mammograms. Mammograms are very simple and procedures that could be life-saving.

The primary types of mammogram procedures are screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms. 

Screening Mammograms

Screening mammograms detect signs of breast cancer in individuals who do not have any visible breast cancer symptoms. X-rays of each breast are taken during a screening mammogram, usually from multiple angles. 

Diagnostic Mammograms

A diagnostic mammogram is used for someone already exhibiting breast cancer symptoms or if there is a change discovered after a screening mammogram.

Diagnostic mammograms might include additional views or images of the breast that are usually not a part of routine screening mammograms.

Diagnostic mammograms are also used to screen individuals who have had breast cancer and are now in remission.

The lowdown

With breast cancer, there are risk factors out of your control. However, there are several things you can do to help prevent it from developing.

Generally, following a healthy and active lifestyle can help reduce the risk, and regular breast screenings can detect early signs of breast cancer and improve outcomes. 

  1. How Common Is Breast Cancer? | American Cancer Society

  2. Breast Cancer Facts | National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

  3. Breastfeeding History | Breastcancer.org

  4. Smoking and risk of breast cancer in the Generations Study cohort (2017)

Have you considered clinical trials for Breast cancer?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Breast cancer, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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