One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Some risk factors are beyond control, like age and family history of the disease, but there are some ways you can take action to decrease your chances of breast cancer. WVU Cancer Institute oncologist Sobha Kurian, MD, provides tips to reduce your risk and boost your overall health.
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing many cancers, including breast cancer. Breast cancer risk goes up if you drink just one glass of wine, beer, or a mixed drink per day. The more you drink, the higher your risk of getting breast cancer. Women who have two to three alcoholic drinks a day have about a 20 percent higher risk compared to non-drinkers. Limit yourself to less than one drink per day.
An annual screening mammogram (use of x-rays to produce electronic imaging of the breasts) can detect cancer earlier, even up to two years before the cancer can be felt as a lump. Current guidelines recommend that all women with average risk of breast cancer should receive an annual mammogram starting at age 40, but you may need to get a mammogram earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer. If you notice or feel any changes in your breasts, such as a lump, skin changes, dimpling, or distortion, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly.
Being overweight or obese increases your breast cancer risk, especially if weight gain occurs after menopause. More fat tissue raises estrogen levels and causes an increase in breast cancer risk. Women who are overweight may also have higher levels of insulin, which has been linked to breast cancer. Losing weight can decrease your breast cancer risk and improve your health in many other ways. Make an appointment with a WVU Medicine clinical dietitian if you’d like to discuss a plan for healthier eating.
If you decide to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT), use it at the lowest dose and for the shortest time possible. If you have had HRT for two or more years to relieve menopause symptoms, you may have a higher chance of developing breast cancer. The longer you use HRT, the higher your risk. If you stop taking the medicines, your risk should go back down to normal after five years. If you’re at a higher risk of developing breast cancer due to various factors, such as strong family history of cancers or prior abnormal breast biopsies, your physician can prescribe medications that lower the female hormone levels in breast tissue to lower your risk of breast cancer.
Exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence) if you've been diagnosed, as well as limit your risk of developing the disease initially. A recent study showed that even 90-150 minutes of brisk walking per week decreased a woman’s risk by 18 percent, and walking 10 hours a week reduced the breast cancer risk even more. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This exercise can be spread out over many days, like walking 30 minutes five days a week.
Talk with a WVU Medicine provider about your risk factors for breast cancer and what steps you can take to reduce your risk. Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE.