Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk

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Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk

If you're concerned about breast cancer, you may be wondering if there are steps you can take toward breast cancer prevention. Understand the lifestyle factors that may affect your risk of breast cancer and what you can do to stay healthy.

What can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Breast cancer prevention begins with various factors you can control. For example:

  • Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol — including beer, wine or liquor — limit yourself to no more than one drink a day.
  • Control your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
  • Get plenty of physical activity. Being physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (think brisk walking or swimming) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (such as running), in addition to strength training exercises at least twice a week. If you're just starting a physical activity program, start slowly and build intensity gradually.
  • Breast-feed. Breast-feeding may also play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.
  • Discontinue hormone therapy. Long-term combination hormone therapy increases the risk of breast cancer. If you're taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options. You may be able to manage your symptoms with non-hormonal therapies, such as physical activity. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, consider using the lowest dose that's effective for your symptoms, and plan to use it only temporarily.
  • Avoid exposure to environmental pollution. While further studies are needed, some research suggests a link between breast cancer and exposure to the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in vehicle exhaust and air pollution.

Can a healthy diet prevent breast cancer?

Research shows that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables doesn't offer direct protection from breast cancer. In addition, a recent study of dietary fat and breast cancer showed only a slight decrease in the risk of invasive breast cancer for women who ate a low-fat diet. However, eating a healthy diet may decrease your risk of other diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. A healthy diet can also help you maintain a healthy weight — a key factor in breast cancer prevention.

Is there a link between birth control pills and breast cancer?

Current evidence suggests that use of oral contraceptives doesn't increase the risk of breast cancer. While older research showed a slight increase in risk, those studies included pills with higher estrogen doses than what's available today. In addition, the older research showed that 10 or more years after stopping oral contraceptives, the risk of breast cancer returned to the same level as that of women who never used oral contraceptives.

What else can I do?

Be vigilant about breast cancer detection. If you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a new lump or skin changes, consult your doctor for an evaluation. Also, ask your doctor when to begin mammograms and other screening procedures to detect breast cancer.

Remember, it's not always possible to prevent breast cancer. By practicing healthy habits, however, you're taking an active role in breast cancer prevention.

Last Updated: 2010-12-11
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