11 Best Tips for Healthy Breasts
Keeping your breasts healthy goes beyond regular mammograms. Diet and exercise tweaks, managing stress, giving delicate breast skin a little TLC plus a whole lot of support—it’s all part of ensuring your boobs stay happy. We consulted a top breast surgeon and gynecologist—along with the latest studies—to bring you 11 essential strategies to combat soreness, feel comfortable, and cut down on your risk of breast cancer.
Work out Smarter, not Harder
Exercise is good for you—this you know. But just how much is necessary to ward off breast cancer? A recent follow-up study in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention showed that 150 minutes of moderate-level aerobic exercise a week (five 30-minute workouts) was enough to reduce biomarkers, substances in your body (including the hormones estradiol, estrone, and insulin) that indicate you have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. No need to go beast mode for better results: Researchers found no additional biomarker improvement with 300 minutes of exercise a week at a high aerobic intensity.
Support Your Set
Boobs headed south? If you don’t give them proper support via a proper-fitting bra, that delicate breast tissue will start to stretch and descend sooner that you’d expect. It’s estimated that a whopping 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size, so get measured for your bras at least once a year (bra size can fluctuate due to weight loss or gain). Plus, make sure your sports bras are up to snuff. If they’re worn out and have lost elasticity, they’re not doing their job, which is to prevent breast tissue from stretching downward as you move. Replace sports bras about every six months.
Manage Your Weight
Being overweight is a well-known risk factor for post-menopausal breast cancer, but now there’s evidence that an increased risk is reversible if you lose weight. In a recent analysis, researchers pooled data from 10 prospective studies involving more than 180,000 age-50 women. The results showed that those who lost weight had a lower risk of breast cancer than those whose weight remained the same. The effect was greater for those who were overweight and obese—those who lost and sustained their weight loss had the lowest risk of all. But even losing as little as 4.5 pounds was enough to decrease risk.
Know Thy Breasts
The American Cancer Society (ACS) doesn’t recommend breast self-exams these days because there’s little evidence to show they’re helpful. Most cancers are caught because of symptoms, not these routine exams. Plus, they can incite panic and unnecessary tests. “The new term is breast self-awareness,” or simply being familiar with your breasts, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine. Know how they look and feel normally, so you can pick up on any changes. If you prefer regular self-exams, don’t let the ACS reco stop you—just do them right after your period, when breasts are less lumpy, says Dr. Minkin.
Don’t Ignore Breast Skin
We spend a lot of time worried about what’s going on inside our breasts that we forget to take care of the outside. Breast skin gets dry, itchy, and sensitive, just like the rest of your skin. And because it’s thinner and more delicate than other areas, it’s also prone to wrinkles and crepiness. For the softest skin, moisturize your boobs every day, and when your breast skin is exposed, slather on sunscreen to help prevent further breakdown of collagen and elastin from sun’s damaging rays.
Make It a Happy Hour—not a Happy Night
Not to be a buzzkill, but alcohol consumption is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer. Even regularly consuming two drinks a night can up your risk of BC, says Dr. Minkin. Why? Alcohol is thought to increase estrogen levels in your body, which may contribute to hormone-receptor positive breast cancer. You don’t have to be a teetotaler, but to imbibe safely, stick to one drink a day—that’s 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
Skip the Soda
We know sugary beverages can contribute to obesity, and that obesity alone is a risk factor for breast cancer. But now there’s a more direct link between the sweet stuff and cancer: A recent study published in The BMJ found that drinking just 100 ml a day of sugary sips (that’s less than one can of soda) comes with an 18 percent increase in overall cancer risk, and a 22 percent increased risk for breast cancer.
Understand Your Family History
A history of breast and ovarian cancers on either side of the family can increase your risk of developing BC. And if you have a strong family history (a first-degree relative such as your mother, sister, or child, or multiple second-degree relatives like a grandmother or aunt), you might consider genetic testing to see if you carry the BRCA gene mutation. But these aren’t the only cancers to note: “If you have family members with colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, or melanoma, you should also consider genetic testing,” says Sarah Cate, M.D., a breast surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Those cancers are also related to the BRCA gene.”
We know stress doesn’t do a body good, but until recently there hasn’t been much data connecting it and BC. In a 2019 study done on mice and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers found that chronic stress revved up the hormone epinephrine, which then boosted an enzyme called lactate dehydrogenase that plays a role in that flight-or-fight stress response. Too much of this enzyme triggered breast cancer stem cells. Obviously, rodents and humans are not the same, but researchers believe this is a first step in understanding how chronic stress might affect breast cancer.
Combat Soreness With Supplements
If your breasts get cystic and tender with your monthly hormonal fluctuations, Dr. Minkin has a group of vitamins and supplements that can help ease the discomfort, based on anecdotal evidence: 100 mg of vitamin B6, which seems to curb the effects of the hormone prolactin, which can stimulate the breasts; 200 units a day of vitamin E; and two capsules of evening primrose (500 units per capsule) to help with fatty acid metabolism. “This vitamin ‘cocktail’ does seem to help my patients with significant, annoying fibrocystic breast changes,” she says.
Get Vitamin D (the Safe Way)
The so-called sunshine vitamin may play a role in breast cancer prevention. Researchers have already linked low levels of vitamin D with an increased risk of BC, and a recent review suggests high levels can actually decrease your risk. You can get vitamin D through sun exposure, but because that can cause skin cancer, experts suggest absorbing your dose through foods and supplements. Vitamin-D-rich foods include fatty fish such as salmon, egg yolks, cheese, and milk. If you’d rather pop a pill, the current supplementation recommendation for adults is 600 IUs, and 800 IUs for those over 70.
Exercises and breast cancer prevention: Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. (2019). “Long-term Effects of Moderate versus High Durations of Aerobic Exercise on Biomarkers of Breast Cancer Risk: Follow-up to a Randomized Controlled Trial.” cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/cebp/early/2019/09/08/1055-9965.EPI-19-0523.full.pdf
Weight loss and breast cancer: Journal of National Cancer Institute. (2019). “Sustained weight loss and risk of breast cancer in women ≥50 years: a pooled analysis of prospective data.” academic.oup.com/jnci/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jnci/djz226/5675519
Breast cancer self-awareness: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). “Breast Self-Awareness.” hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/breast-self-awareness
Alcohol and breast cancer risk: Current Breast Cancer Reports. (2014). “Alcohol Intake and Breast Cancer Risk: Weighing the Overall Evidence.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832299/
Sugary drinks and breast cancer: The BMJ. (2019). “Sugary drink consumption and risk of cancer: results from NutriNet-Sante prospective cohort.” bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l2408
BRCA gene testing: American Cancer Society. (n.d.). “Genetic Counseling and Testing for Breast Cancer Risk.” cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/genetic-testing.html
Stress and breast cancer: The Journal of Clinical Investigation. (2019). “Stress-induced epinephrine enhances lactate dehydrogenase A and promotes breast cancer stem-like cells.” jci.org/articles/view/121685
Vitamin D and breast cancer risk: Plos One. (2018). “Breast cancer risk markedly lower with serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations ≥60 vs <20 ng/ml (150 vs 50 nmol/L): Pooled analysis of two randomized trials and a prospective cohort.” journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0199265