Assessing your personal risk of breast cancer is a complex task for you and your health care provider, involving many factors including some genetic and physical traits you have little to no control over. Other factors are dependent on circumstances like having children and breastfeeding that sometimes can’t or shouldn’t be reversed.
But these exist alongside risk factors you can control, and acting on them reduces your overall risk of developing breast cancer over the course of your lifetime. Anyone can benefit from taking these lifestyle actions that reduce, and in many cases, prevent breast cancer from invading or ending their lives.
Most of these protective measures are related to lifestyle. Breastcancer.org has the following suggestions for reducing your odds of being diagnosed with this disease:
LIMIT ALCOHOL USE
Multiple studies have found your chances of developing breast cancer grow with the amount of alcohol you consume, regardless of whether it’s wine, beer or liquor. Women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of diagnosis versus women who don’t drink at all, and it increases an estimated 10% per additional drink they have per day. Those looking for ways to reduce their risk should consider not drinking any alcohol or limiting it to no more than two drinks per week.
Studies have found women who regularly get four to seven hours of moderate or higher intensity exercise per week are less likely to get breast cancer, and those who are already diagnosed are encouraged to exercise about four to five hours per week for better physical fitness and improving their prognosis. Those who want to increase their physical activity should start slowly, consult with their medical provider and work on discovering which forms of exercise they enjoy and are most likely to do on a regular basis.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Women who are overweight or obese, which is generally defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher, have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, especially after menopause. Being overweight also increases the chances of breast cancer recurring in patients. You should eat a sustainable, healthy diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, limited amounts of lean meat and poultry and mostly avoids added sugar, refined carbohydrates and alcohol. Exercising for weight loss and overall health is also important, but has less of a direct impact compared to diet.
AVOID USING ADDITIONAL HORMONES
Women treated for menopause-related symptoms with combination hormone replacement therapy using estrogen and progesterone face a 75% higher risk of breast cancer during and for three years after treatment. Women taking estrogen- only HRT also face a higher breast cancer risk after 10 or more years, but are also more likely to get ovarian cancer. Menopausal women should consider nonhormonal therapies whenever possible or ask their provider about using the lowest-dose hormone for the shortest period possible.