9 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

International symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Close up of female hand holding satin pink ribbon awareness on pink background w/ copy space. Women's health care and medical concept.; blog: 9 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

Almost everyone knows someone touched by breast cancer, as it is the most common type of cancer among women outside of certain skin cancers. So many factors can contribute to developing breast cancer, including age and family history. Some things you can’t control or change, but there are some lifestyle changes that may be helpful in decreasing your chances of getting breast cancer. There is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, but there are some ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer.

1. Limit or Avoid Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of breast cancer. Studies have shown that even low levels of alcohol are linked to an increase in cancer risk. If you do drink, limit your intake to one drink per day.  A “drink” is defined as:

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor

2. Discuss the Risks and Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is often a beneficial treatment for women, especially during menopause. However, this treatment should be closely monitored by a doctor and limited when possible due to its link to increased breast cancer risk. Talk to your doctor about the risks of HRT for you and see if there are non-hormonal treatments that may help with symptoms.

Using hormonal birth control has also been shown to increase breast cancer risk, but only very slightly. Though it is a small risk, your doctor can talk to you about the risks vs benefits of using this type of birth control in your specific case.

3. Get to and/or Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being a healthy weight is beneficial in many ways, and it can help you reduce your risk of breast cancer. Obesity is linked to increased cancer rates among women who become overweight as adults, especially after menopause. There are several reasons for this one being that after menopause, fat tissue is the main source of estrogen. If you have more fat, the estrogen levels can rise, which is linked to breast cancer.  Also, women who are overweight often have higher levels of insulin, another hormone linked to cancer.

If you are at a healthy weight already, then continue to be physically active and maintain a balanced diet. If you are overweight, then work with your doctor on a plan to lose weight in a healthy way. Losing excess weight, even a little bit at a time, can help reduce your cancer risk and improve your overall health.

4. Avoid Exposure to Environmental Pollution and Radiation

There is some research that suggests that the cumulative amount of time spent exposed to radiation over your lifetime may be linked to breast cancer risk. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but as a precaution, medical-imaging tests that use high doses of radiation should be performed only when necessary.

5. Breast Feed if Possible

If you have children and are able to breastfeed, it may protect you from breast cancer. The longer you breastfeed, the greater the potential benefit. The link between breastfeeding and lower breast cancer rates has not been fully explained, but the potential protection is well worth giving the practice a shot (plus, breastfeeding has other benefits).

6. Stop Smoking

It’s not breaking news that smoking is bad for you. So, quitting is going to be a benefit when treating or preventing any condition. Smoking has been linked to higher risks of breast cancer, especially in premenopausal women.

7. Stay Physically Active

Studies have linked getting regular exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity level to lower rates of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least two and a half hours of moderately intense exercise or an hour and fifteen minutes of vigorous exercise weekly. Or you can do a combination of both moderate and intense activity. Either way, it’s best to spread the activity throughout the week rather than doing it all at once.

Moderate exercise is anything that makes you breathe as quickly or as hard as you do during a brisk walk. Your heart rate and breathing rate are raised slightly during moderate activity. Vigorous activity is done at a higher intensity level and will cause a more noticeable increase in breathing and heart rates.

8. Make Good Food Choices

There is evidence that suggests that following certain nutritional guidelines may decrease your risk of getting cancer. Lower rates of breast cancer have been found among women who follow a Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is mostly focused on plant-based foods and protein sources like red meats are replaced by fish. The diet is full of foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), and nuts.

There are other healthy diets you can follow to try and reduce your risk. The American Cancer Society has guidelines for nutrition and exercise as they relate to cancer prevention.

9. Talk to Your Doctor if You’re At Increased Risk

If you have a family history of breast cancer,  you may want to talk to your doctor about genetic testing to see if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or another mutation linked to breast cancer. If you have one of those genes or other risk factors, then you should discuss a plan to get checked regularly for breast cancer signs. There are some medications that may decrease the chance of breast cancer, and other more aggressive options if you are at very high risk.

Make an Appointment

At Kernodle OB/GYN, we can provide you with full-scope women’s healthcare at every stage of your life. So, if you have concerns about your breast cancer risk or any other issue, we can help. To make an appointment at either our Burlington or Mebane office, call (336) 538-2367. Patients with a MyChart account can also schedule an appointment online.

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