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Lifestyle Choices Best Way To Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

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Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
  Michelle Brown, RGCF   5 min read 8 years ago

Lifestyle Choices Best Way To Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

We have all seen the troubling statistics that report one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.But what is it that causes one woman to develop breast cancer and not another? Click here for a list of breast cancer awareness events.

Researchers know that things like age, race, physical activity, weight, alcohol use, and use of hormone therapy after menopause, as well as other factors may affect a woman's risk of breast cancer.

But a lot of women who have one or more of these risk factors never develop the disease. And many women with breast cancer who have no known risk factors (other than age and being female) develop the second most deadly cancer among American women.

So given the confusion, what can a woman do to decrease her risk of getting breast cancer?

Weighing the Risks

“While there is no way to completely prevent breast cancer, you can control your actions and reduce your risk,” said Anuradha Gupta, M.D. who specializes in radiation oncology at Texas Oncology in El Paso. “You can’t change factors beyond your control, like your genes, gender and age. You can take critical steps to maintain a healthy weight, optimize your BMI (body mass index), exercise at least 30 minutes daily and balance nutrition.”

Many studies link breast cancer to factors including weight and excessive alcohol consumption—the heavier you are and the more alcoholic beverages consumed per day increase chances of developing or recurring breast cancer.


In published findings from the Journal of the American Medical Association, a large analysis found that even moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a slight increase in breast cancer.“While one drink a day has a modicum of increase, three to five per day showed a one and one half times higher risk,” added Dr. Gupta.


Weight gain is another consideration in the equation, especially pounds put on after menopause. We know that losing even a little bit of weight (5%-10% of starting weight) improves your overall health by lowering your risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.“Estrogen stored in fat cells increases the risk, particularly in post-menopausal women”, says Gupta, “so exercise is important, especially at this stage”. What's more, besides lowering a woman’s breast cancer risk, losing and maintaining your ideal weight is just good practice.

Body weight is one of the few breast cancer risk factors women have control over.

Breastfeeding has often been included in the protective behaviors against breast cancer, and while breastfeeding is purported to reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer, Dr. Gupta noted that women are waiting longer than previous generations to have children.“Breastfeeding is much easier to do in your 20s than in your 30s and for some women, it’s just not practical at all,” she adds.

I’m High Risk – Now What?

What about women whose risk factors are off the charts?

“There are a number of chemo prevention drugs available that may help reduce breast cancer for those at high risk, says Dr. Gupta.“Tamoxifen, Raloxifen and Arimidex are proven tried and true in helping reduce breast cancer in high-risk individuals,” she said.

Additionally, gene identification for hereditary breast cancer (about 10% of cases) has received an abundance of media attention and done wonders to raise awareness of breast cancer. However, Dr. Gupta stressed that those tests do not affect 80-90 percent of women who don’t have those genes but still get breast cancer. (For more information, see related story on BRCA genetic testing on page seven.)

Stay Informed

Potential causes of breast cancer can be the result of environmental hazards. While much of the science on this topic is still in its earliest stages, this is an area of active research. In a long-term study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), researchers enrolled 50,000 women who have sisters with breast cancer. Known as The Sister Study, the project will follow these women for at least 10 years and collect information about genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors that may cause breast cancer. An offshoot of the Sister Study, the Two Sister Study, is designed to look at possible causes of early onset breast cancer. To find out more about these studies, call 1-877-4-SISTER (1-877-474-7837) or visit the Sister Study Web site (

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