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 the best screening schedule for you. Breast cancer screenings include:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov. Accessed January 27, 2006.
Mammograms and other breast imaging procedures. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_6X_Mammography_and_other_Breast_Imaging_Procedures_5.asp. Updated September 2009. Accessed May 9, 2010.
Prophylactic mastectomy: breast cancer prevention for high-risk women. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/prophylactic-mastectomy/WO00060. Updated November 2009. Accessed May 9, 2010.
Screening for breast cancer. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated January 2009. Accessed May 9, 2010.
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Available at: http://www.komen.org. Accessed July 2006.
1/8/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Nelson HD, Fu R, Griffin JC, et al. Systematic review: comparative effectiveness of medications to reduce risk for primary breast cancer. Ann Intern Med. 2009;151(10):703-715.
1/28/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Lostumbo L, Carbine N, Wallace J. Prophylactic mastectomy for the prevention of breast cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(11):CD002748.
6/24/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Farvid MS, Cho E, et al. Dietary protein sources in early adulthoood and breast cancer incidence: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2014 Jun 10;348:g3437.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.