Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, and approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
Each year, about 250,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer, and about 40,000 women will die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC).
Although certain risk factors, such as age and family history, cannot be changed, there are other risk factors that can be modified through lifestyle changes. The following are steps that you can take to lower your chances of getting breast cancer.
1. Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet can help lower the risk of developing breast cancer. Try to include a lot of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet and limit the consumption of red meats and processed foods. Check out these 10 best cancer-fighting foods.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight increases the risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause.
A study from the University of Texas at Houston found that obese women also had lower breast cancer survival rates and a greater chance of more aggressive disease than average-weight or underweight women.
If you’re already at a healthy weight, stay there. If you’re overweight, try to lose a few pounds. Check out these 15 simple ways to cut calories and lose weight.
3. Get moving
Many studies have found that exercise can help cut down your breast cancer risk and even help breast cancer survivors live longer.
According to a study from the Women’s Health Initiative, women who engaged in the equivalent of 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking had an 18 percent decreased risk of breast cancer. Slightly greater reduction in risk was observed for women who engaged in the equivalent of 10 hours or more per week of brisk walking.
For most healthy adults, the American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
4. Don’t smoke
Smoking not only raises the risk of developing various cancers, but it can also damage nearly every organ in your body, including the lungs, heart, blood vessels, eyes, skin and bones. So, don’t smoke. If you do, quit it.
Getting exposed to second-hand smoke also increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, particularly among postmenopausal women.
5. Limit alcohol consumption
Research has shown that women who drink 2-5 alcoholic drinks daily have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who drink only 1 drink a day or not at all. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer.
The general recommendation based on research on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk is to limit your alcohol consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drink for men.
Studies have shown that women who breastfeed their babies have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, especially if they breastfeed for longer than 1 year.
The underlying mechanisms are not fully clear, but the reduced risk might be because the ovaries don’t produce eggs so often during breastfeeding, or it might be because breastfeeding changes the cells in the breast so they might be more resistant to changes that lead to cancer.
7. Avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation
Imaging tests, such as CT scan, use high doses of radiation and research suggests that acute exposure to such radiation can increase the risk of developing cancer, including breast cancer.
Talk with your health care team about whether the tests are necessary and whether there are alternative tests that don’t use radiation.
8. Avoid hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an effective treatment used to relieve the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, etc. It helps relieve menopausal symptoms by increasing the estrogen levels.
However, HRT has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer and the risk is greater with combined HRT that contains both estrogen and progestogen than with estrogen-only HRT.
Although the exact reason why this occurs is not fully known, but research indicates that the higher levels of estrogen help some breast cancers to grow.
If you are considering HRT to relieve your menopausal symptoms, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits. Ask about the other options and be sure to discuss the pros and cons of different types of HRT.
9. Get screened
Breast cancer screening means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before she has any signs or symptoms. Although breast cancer screening doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get cancer or die from it, but regular screening may help find the cancer earlier.
Early detection is crucial as the sooner it’s found, the sooner it can be treated successfully. Ask your doctor about which breast cancer screening tests are right for you, and when you should have them.