How to Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer: A HealthCentral Explainer

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Gone are the days when the causes of cancer were a complete mystery. Researchers have identified a number of factors that increase your risk of breast cancer. And some of them are lifestyle choices – meaning yes, it’s possible to lower your own personal risk of breast cancer. Here’s how –


    Pre-menopausal women

    Risk: Exposure to environmental pollutants, especially during puberty. 

    Reduction strategies: Avoid polluted air whenever possible; choose “green” cleaners rather than toxic cleaning supplies; use all-natural cosmetics and personal care products; eat organic to reduce exposure to chemicals used to produce food.

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    Risk: Oral contraceptives (birth control pills).

    Reduction strategy: Use oral contraceptives for the shortest amount of time possible. Risk reverts to normal 10 years after discontinuing oral contraceptives.


    Risk: Having your first child after age 30.

    Reduction strategy: Consider starting your family earlier, having at least your first child before age 30.


    Risk: Not breastfeeding. 

    Reduction strategy: Breastfeed your children, and consider continuing for 1 year or more; risk reduction benefits decrease with less than 1 year of breastfeeding.


    Risk: Smoking.

    Reduction strategy: STOP.


    Post-menopausal women

    Risk: Being overweight. Calculate your body mass index (BMI); if it’s 25 or over, you’re overweight. And the higher it is, the greater your breast cancer risk.


    Reduction strategies: 

    *Exercise. The American Cancer Society recommends a minimum of 4 to 5 hours a week of moderate exercise (the equivalent of brisk walking). 

    *Eat healthy: Reduce calories and increase nutrition by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods; and less high-fat dairy, red meat, and sugar. 


    Risk: Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for relief of menopausal symptoms.

    Reduction strategy: If symptoms are severe enough that you feel you have to use HRT, use it at the smallest possible dose, for the shortest amount of time necessary to deliver results.


    All women

    Risk: Consuming more than 1 alcoholic beverage a day: 12 ounces of beer, or a shot of hard liquor, or 5 ounces of wine.

    Reduction strategy: Stick to healthier drinks – water is healthiest. Not a fan of plain water? Try flavored seltzer, low-calorie flavored water, or water-juice combinations.


    Risk: Working a late or night shift. 

    Reduction strategy: If possible, follow your body’s natural sleep rhythm: work during the day, sleep at night.


    High-risk women

    Certain women identified as being at high risk of breast cancer, due to a strong family history or genetics, might consider a more proactive, aggressive response to dealing with that risk, as follows:


    Surgery: Removal of both breasts (contralateral mastectomy) and/or ovaries (oophorectomy) may be recommended for women identified as carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.


    Drug therapy: Certain drugs have been shown to lower breast cancer risk. While not recommended for the general population of women, women at high risk of breast cancer may be advised to take tamoxifen, if pre-menopausal; or raloxifene or Aromasin, if post-menopausal.


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    Read more: 

    Lifestyle choices to reduce breast cancer risk

    Complete list of breast cancer risk factors




    Kaplan, K. (2014, February 12). Breast cancer and BRCA mutations: Removing healthy breast saves lives,0,7706141.story


    Surgery to reduce the risk of breast cancer. (2013, August 12). Retrieved from


    Risk factors and risk reduction. (n.d.). Retrieved from



Published On: February 15, 2014