Although certain genetic factors may not be preventable, there are other precautions you can take to decrease your risk of developing breast cancer. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested for the breast and ovarian cancer gene mutation (BRCA1 and BRCA2). Women who carry this gene are at very high risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers and should be followed closely. If you do have these risk factors, you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of having a mastectomy before cancer develops.
General precautions you can take to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer include:
Talk to Your Doctor About Screenings
Talk to your doctor about the best screening schedule for you. Breast cancer screenings include:
Limit Exposure to Estrogen When Possible
High levels of estrogen have been linked to the development of breast cancer. For older women, the greatest exposure to estrogen is via postmenopausal hormone replacement. Therefore, you should have a frank conversation with your doctor as to the risks and benefits of estrogen replacement relative to breast cancer.
Other lifestyle factors may also increase your exposure to estrogen. If possible, try to limit these factors:
- Overweight after the age of menopause
- Alcohol consumption and smoking
- Physical inactivity
There are two FDA-approved medicines to prevent invasive breast cancer in high-risk, postmenopausal women. Tamoxifen and raloxifene work by blocking estrogen from binding to "estrogen-sensitive" cells, which prevents the cells from growing and dividing. These medicines do however increase your chances of having blood clots and stroke.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight—particularly after menopause—may increase your chance of developing breast cancer. This is due to the fact that after menopause, most of the estrogen in a woman’s body comes from her fat tissue. The more fat on the body, the higher the degree of estrogen.
Consuming a diet that is high in red meat may increase your risk of breast cancer. Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in red meat.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Studies have shown that women who drink 2-4 alcoholic drinks daily have a 40% greater risk of developing breast cancer than nondrinkers. This may be due to the fact that alcohol may alter the way a woman's body metabolizes estrogen and may cause blood estrogen levels to rise, increasing the risk of breast cancer onset.
Do Not Smoke
Smoking greatly increases your risk of several cancers, including breast cancer.
Exercise helps maintain weight and modulates high levels of estrogen. It is also believed that low-to-moderate levels of exercise may enhance the immune system, which ultimately may slow the growth rate or kill cancer cells. Overall, exercise has many benefits and is recommended for overall health and reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Surgery to remove both breasts (called prophylactic mastectomy) may be an option for women who are at very high risk for breast cancer. If you have many risk factors for breast cancer, talk to your doctor to see if this is an option for you.
- Reviewer: Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 12/2014 -
- Update Date: 12/20/2014 -