Lowering Your Risk of Breast Cancer

While getting regular mammograms can result in early detection of breast cancer so that it can be treated in its most curable stages, there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. However, there are steps you can take for lowering your risk of breast cancer.

These steps include:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol use
  • If you are over the age of 40, have an annual mammogram

Breast Cancer Facts

Please note that having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will get the disease. But they could be factors that contribute to a potential diagnosis.

  • Women who breastfeed their children for several months or do not use postmenopausal hormone therapy (PHT; also known as estrogen replacement therapy) may reduce their breast cancer risk.
  • Risk rises after age 40 and as you continue to age, which is why annual mammograms are recommended by the American Cancer Society for women over the age of 40. The average patient's age with a new breast cancer diagnosis is 62.
  • American Caucasian women develop breast cancer more often than African American, Native American, or Asian women.
  • Women who have had breast cancer in one breast face an increased risk of getting cancer in the other breast. This is particularly true when breast cancer genetic risk is inherited.
  • One's risk increases if there is a strong family history of breast cancer. And family history could be a factor when relatives who have been affected are on either the maternal or paternal sides.
  • Risk is higher if there are multiple relatives who have had breast cancer, if the relatives are "first-degree" relatives (i.e. mother, sister, daughter), and if the relatives were diagnosed at a pre-menopausal age.
  • Studies suggest that the longer a woman is exposed to estrogen, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer. This includes estrogen made by the body, taken as a drug, or delivered by a patch. Also at increased risk are women who began their periods before age 12, never had children, took hormone replacement therapy for long periods of time, or experienced menopause after age 55.
  • Women who have their first child after age 35 have a greater risk.
  • Five to ten percent of women who develop breast cancer are born with a mutation in breast-cancer-susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Genetic changes may be inherited from either parent. Families with inherited susceptibility to breast cancer generally have multiple generations who are affected, a higher incidence of ovarian and other gynecologic cancers, male breast cancer, or an onset of cancer in young individuals. Genetic testing and counseling can be done in affected or unaffected family members, if warranted.
  • Certain genes routinely keep breast cells from dividing, growing out of control, and forming tumors. When these genes become altered, changes occur and a cell no longer can grow correctly.