Your risk of developing breast cancer — which is about 13 percent for women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) — depends on both factors that you can control and some you cannot.
Factors you can’t control include things such as your age, race and your family history, according to Jane Kakkis, MD, a surgical oncologist and the medical director of breast surgery at MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
But lifestyle choices, diet, stress levels and exercise all play a role in your overall chances of developing breast cancer — and they are in your hands.
While you should always speak to your doctor about your personal risk for breast cancer, there are general strategies, like exercising regularly, that can help decrease the odds.
Eat a Healthy Diet.
The benefits of following a healthy diet are clear: For one, it can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Following a diet that’s low in fat and high in healthy foods such as lean proteins, fiber-filled whole grains and vegetables will help support your overall health and wellness.
Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
The ACS recommends the following healthy strategies to lowering your cancer risk:
- Quit smoking. “Smoking increases breast cancer and a variety of other cancers and causes other substantial health problems,” Dr. Kakkis says.
- Avoid alcohol. Any amount of alcohol consumption increases cancer risk, according to Dr. Kakkis.
- Avoid carcinogens. While this is very broad, Dr. Kakkis explains that in general, everyone can do their best to avoid carcinogens in their daily lives as much as possible. That could be everything from limiting radiation exposure from cell phone use to decreasing chemical exposure by swapping plastic bottles for stainless-steel versions.
- Get enough sleep.
- Get Regular Exercise
Maintain an Optimal Weight
Being overweight increases your risk of breast cancer “substantially,” Dr. Kakkis says. She recommends maintaining a healthy weight that is appropriate for your age and body type. This doesn’t have to involve extreme measures, she notes. “We’re not talking about marathon running,” Dr. Kakkis says. “We’re talking about being in a reasonable range.”
Limit Hormone Replacement Therapy
While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (also called hormone therapy) with estrogen for women going through and after menopause used to be considered somewhat standard treatment, it is now much more of a personal decision.
Manage Your Stress Levels
Because your immune system plays an important role in recognizing and clearing any potential cancer cells from your body, keeping your immune system functioning at its optimal level might help decrease your overall cancer risk according to a December 2015 report in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.
But how exactly do you accomplish that? “Everyone responds to stress differently, so stress reduction is different for everyone,” Dr. Kakkis says.
Exercise and sleep are crucial to not only decreasing the stress you encounter on a daily basis, but also managing how you cope with stress long term as well, she notes. “Exercise begets sleep and being well-rested actually helps you work through and cope with stressful situations,” Kakkis notes.
Other Stress-Management Strategies to Try
If stress is a concern for you, along with speaking to a health professional, you can also try a variety of stress-management techniques, such as:
- Focusing on gratitude
- Spending time outdoors
- Working with a therapist
And as you look to decrease your risk of breast cancer, take small steps along the way, rather than try to overhaul your entire lifestyle all at once, Dr. Kakkis recommends. The goal is to take small steps to optimize your life, she says. “Make one change, stick to it, then make another change. You can’t always go from zero to 100 percent.”
By Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RNJuly 11, 2020 Medically Reviewed by Angela Wright Marshall, MD, FACP