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8 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, one out of eight women born in the United States today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her lifetime.1 Because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there’s no better time than now to increase awareness about how to lower your risk.

Staying Abreast With Early Detection

When detected early enough, the chances of surviving breast cancer are very good. In fact, the National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that the 5-year survival rate for Stage 1 breast cancer is about 98% in patients who’ve completed treatment.2

The Importance of Prevention

Aside from early detection, the most important aspect of breast cancer awareness is prevention.  There are a number of risk factors associated with breast cancer; some – like your age and gender – can’t be changed. Others involve personal behaviors and lifestyle, each of which you have ultimate control over.

So, what can you do to lower your risk of breast cancer? The following tips are among those recommended by the American Cancer Society:

  1. Eat a healthy diet – Although not consistently linked with breast cancer prevention, a healthy diet has been shown to lower the risk of other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.3 What’s more, eating better helps keep your weight under control, which has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer.
  2. Stay physically active – Research suggests that women who are physically active have a 25% less chance of developing breast cancer than women who are least active.4 Try regular, moderate to vigorous activity that is sustained over time for optimal results.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight – Obesity is linked to many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast.5 Stay slim by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and limiting your intake of animal products that contain high amounts of saturated fats.
  4. Stomp out those cigarettes – The American Cancer Society reports an increased risk of breast cancer among women who smoke, especially those who start smoking before they have their first child.6 Jump on the stop smoking bandwagon and kick the habit to reduce your risk.
  5. Limit your alcohol consumption – Even one drink a day has been found to increase your risk of breast cancer.7 The more you drink, the higher your risk. Limiting, or eliminating alcohol altogether, is the safest way to approach breast cancer prevention.
  6. Consider the risks of hormone replacement therapy – While starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce the effects of menopause is a personal choice, studies suggest that women who use it after menopause have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.8 Make an informed decision by talking to your doctor about the risks and benefits of HRT.
  7. Aim for early detection – The ultimate goal of early detection is to detect possible tumors before they grow larger. Larger tumors are more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Starting in your 20s, perform a monthly breast self-exam on a regular basis. If you’re between 20 and 40, have your breasts examined by your health care provider during your annual physical. If you’re over 40, schedule an annual mammogram.9
  8. Think positive – Remember when your mother told you to think positive? Maybe she was on to something. The Mayo Clinic reports that thinking positive has a direct effect on your stress levels, which in turn, has a positive effect on your health. Keep your glass half-full by eliminating negative self-talk and incorporating positive self-talk into your daily life. Having positive thoughts will lead to a more optimistic outlook on life and better health, overall.10


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN

US Department of Health and Human Services. October: National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Updated September, 2013.
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. About Breast Cancer: Stage 0 & 1. Updated 2012.
The Mayo Clinic. Breast Cancer Prevention: How to Reduce Your Risk. Updated December, 2012.
Lynch, BM., et. al. Physical activity and breast cancer prevention. Recent Results Cancer Res. 2011;186:13-42.
National Cancer Institute. Obesity and Cancer: Questions and Answers. Reviewed 3/16/2004.
Simon, Stacy. Study Links Smoking to Breast Cancer Risk. February 28, 2013.
National Cancer Institute. Prevention: Behavioral Factors – Alcohol Consumption. Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2007 Update.
Fournier, A., et. al. Hormone replacement therapy in menopause and risk of breast cancer. Bull Cancer. 2003 Oct;90(10):821-31.
The American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer: Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention: Aging. Updated September, 2010.
10 The Mayo Clinic. Positive thinking: Reduce stress by eliminating negative self-talk. May 28, 2011.

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