Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer among women. While treatments have improved significantly, prevention is always preferred.
The lifetime risk of a woman in America developing breast cancer is 1 in 8, and many of the factors that contribute to that risk—such as age, family history and ethnicity—cannot be changed.
But UR Medicine cancer specialist Dr. Alissa Huston says these lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity—defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or greater—increases the risk of breast cancer. BMI, which is a ratio of height to weight, for a woman with a healthy weight is between 18.5 and 24.9. Eating a healthful diet and staying physically active are important components of maintaining a healthy weight.
- Eat plenty of plants: Research shows eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes—while limiting added fats, sugars, and highly processed foods—may reduce your risk of breast cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research can be a helpful resource diet and cancer-risk information based on current research.
- Stay active: Regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. In addition to eating a healthy diet, you should strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. Moderate-intensity activities include walking, dancing, and yoga. Vigorous activities include jogging or running, swimming, aerobics, and fast cycling.
- Limit alcohol: Keep it to no more than one drink a day. Drinking alcohol increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, and that risk increases the more alcohol is consumed.
- Check your vitamin D: In preclinical studies, vitamin D has been shown to reduce cell growth and decrease the spread of cancer cells, and a growing number of clinical studies have linked vitamin D levels with a lower risk of breast cancer. If your vitamin D levels are deficient, talk with your doctor about supplementation. While you can get vitamin D through sun exposure, you should take precautions to avoid damaging your skin.
- Include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet: Research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids, which come from consuming fish or fish oil supplements, are protective against breast cancer. Consider increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids and decreasing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids, which come from meat, dairy, and vegetable oils and may increase your risk of breast cancer.
- Limit post-menopausal hormone exposure: Hormone therapy can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. If you are considering these therapies after menopause or hysterectomy, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
In addition to taking control over risk factors you can change, be sure to get screened regularly. An annual clinical breast exam is important, as are regular self-exams. Unless she has other risk factors, every woman should have a mammogram starting at age 40. If you are uninsured or underinsured and need a mammogram, contact the Cancer Services Program of Monroe County at (585) 224-3070.
If you have questions about your breast cancer risk, talk with your primary care provider, gynecologist, or one of our specialists at Comprehensive Breast Care at Pluta.
Alissa J. Huston, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Comprehensive Breast Care at Pluta and an associate professor of Medicine.