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How to Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer: 5 Key Ways

Jul 26 2021
5 min read
Group of three happy, older woman laughing and smiling together outside.

On average, every two minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in America, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

That equates to one in eight women getting a diagnosis within her lifetime. It’s a frightening statistic. But it may help to remember its flipside — that seven out of eight women will remain breast cancer-free — and that where you fall within those odds depends a lot on factors within your control.

It’s true that breast cancer can be hereditary, and that there are other risk factors —including your age, race, and breast density — that you can’t control. (Older women, white women, and those with dense breast tissue are at increased risk.) But the complete picture is more positive: Only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are believed to be caused by genes. So there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk. Here, five of the most important steps you can take:

Work Toward a Healthy Weight

Women who are overweight or obese after menopause have a greater risk of developing breast cancer. That may be because this is the time when the body switches from producing estrogen — which can encourage some kinds of breast cancer to develop — in the ovaries to doing so in fat cells, which overweight women have more of than their peers. Plus, insulin levels are often elevated in overweight women, a potential contributor to the disease. If your body mass index is over 25, losing weight will help lower your risk of breast cancer (as well as many other health concerns). What you eat may help you manage your weight and ward off the disease: Some studies have linked diets that are heavy on fruits and veggies, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy with a lower risk of breast cancer.

Move More

Getting enough physical activity will help you keep off extra weight. It can also lower your breast cancer risk by regulating hormones and by boosting your immune system. You don’t have to run marathons to get the benefits: In one study, 1.25 to 2.5 hours of brisk walking every week reduced women’s risk of breast cancer by an impressive 18 percent. To bring down your overall cancer risk, the American Cancer Society suggests you get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week. A good way to achieve that is to try to break a sweat for at least 20 minutes every day. (Activities like water aerobics, swift walking, and dancing all count.)

Limit Alcohol

Alcohol has a very clear link to breast cancer: That mojito, martini, or glass of wine can disrupt your liver’s ability to control the amount of estrogen in your body. Women who have one alcoholic drink a day are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than those who don’t drink. And that risk becomes much higher for women who have two or more drinks a day. Considering limiting yourself to one adult beverage daily, or cutting back even further. (Mocktails, such as our Almosjito and Pomatini, make for great substitutes.)

Know Your Family History

While only a small number of breast cancer cases have an inherited genetic component, it is important to know if the disease is in your family’s past. If you do have a family history of the disease, be sure to have regular cancer screenings so your doctor can closely monitor any changes, which will increase your chances of early detection.

Talk Openly with Your Doctor About Hormones

It’s important to know that taking hormonal birth control pills may increase your breast cancer risk — but only slightly, and for a limited time. Women who haven’t used the Pill in 10 years or more don’t seem to have an increased risk, however. During, or after menopause, women who take combination hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with both estrogen and progesterone have an increased risk of breast cancer for up to five years after treatment. Talk with your doctor about these medications, as well as your personal breast cancer risk, so you can make the best decision for you.