Reducing your lifetime risk of breast cancer

Mar 2, 2020


The risk of breast cancer varies from person to person. Some breast cancer risk factors are not changeable, such as gender, family history or breast density. Other risk factors, like age, become more important as a woman grows older.

Fortunately, some risk factors are modifiable, meaning that there are things you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer. These include weight, body-mass index (BMI), physical activity, tobacco use and changes in diet.

Reducing your risk of breast cancer

Exercising more: Women who exercise weekly have significantly fewer breast cancers compared to sedentary women. Moderate exercise of 150 minutes per week reduces breast cancer risk by 20%. That’s only 30 minutes of exercise per day 5 days a week. And exercise for more than 4 hours a week reduce breast cancer risk by 40%!

Appropriate exercises include walking briskly, running, or other aerobic activities. Strength training at least twice a week is also recommended. In addition to reducing your risk of breast cancer, exercising reduces your risk of heart disease, improves your energy level and enhances your self-esteem. Exercise also reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence in women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Maintaining normal or lean body weight: Lean women have significantly fewer breast cancers than obese women. This is because body fat produces estrogen, which increases the risk of developing breast cancer, especially in post-menopausal women.

In addition, lean and moderately overweight women who exercised more than 75 minutes a week have a 30% reduction in their risk of breast cancer. For a 200-pound woman, losing a little as 10-20 pounds of your body weight can significantly reduce your breast cancer risk.

Avoiding alcohol: Daily alcohol consumption more than doubles the risk of breast cancer in women who have a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer. There is also slightly increased risk in women who have no family history of breast cancer.

Avoiding or quitting smoking: Smoking cessation reduces the risk of many diseases, including breast cancer. If you are a smoker, stopping smoking now will reduce your chances of developing breast cancer in the future. It will also decrease your risk of developing lung cancer, the #1 cause of cancer death in women, and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Eating more veggies: Mom always told you to eat your vegetables and with good reason. They provide a host of health benefits including protection from breast cancer. Cruciferous vegetables are particularly beneficial in preventing breast cancer. These include broccoli, kale, watercress, collard greens, brussels sprouts, turnip and cabbage.

Cruciferous vegetables are set apart contain high levels of the compounds that are known to play a role in the prevention of breast cancer. One major study demonstrated that eating these leafy greens at least once a week can cut the risk of breast cancer by almost one-fifth. Incorporating these vegetables into your diet is a tasty way to cut your breast cancer risk.

When someone you love has cancer

Learn what you can do to support a loved one with breast cancer.