Breast Cancer Prevention

You can’t prevent breast cancer with absolute certainty. However, certain medical measures and lifestyle changes may reduce your risk. Simple lifestyle changes can help minimize your risk of developing breast cancer, while those at very high risk–often indicated by a family history of breast cancer–may opt for more extreme measures, including medications or preventative surgery.

Lifestyle Changes for Breast Cancer Prevention

A healthy lifestyle can help you ensure you’re doing everything you can to prevent breast cancer. The following can help you reduce your risk:

  • Avoid alcohol. According to the American Cancer Society (2010), moderate alcohol consumption (three to 14 drinks per week) slightly increases the risk of breast cancer. Having the equivalent of two drinks per day raises your risk by 21 percent.
  • Avoid hormone supplementation. Estrogen and progestin supplements, which alleviate the symptoms of menopause in some women, increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Avoid these if you’re worried about your risk of breast cancer, or talk to your doctor.
  • Exercise regularly. Though researchers aren’t sure why, women who get regular, vigorous exercise seem well protected against breast cancer. This is particularly true of post-menopausal women. Ideally, you should exercise 45 to 60 minutes, five days per week, but even more moderate exercise is beneficial.
  • Quit smoking. Though no definitive link between breast cancer and smoking tobacco products exists, avoid smoking. It depresses the immune system, which is a general risk factor for all cancers.
  • Stay slim. Obesity raises your risk of developing breast cancer after menopause, but not before it. In a study reported by the American Cancer Society (2010), a postmenopausal loss of at least 22 pounds decreased the risk of developing breast cancer by 57 percent.

Medical Prevention of Breast Cancer

If genetic testing or family history reveals that you’re at very high risk for breast cancer, you can take some extreme breast cancer prevention measures, including:

  • Medications: The drugs tamoxifen and raloxifene reduce the risk of breast cancer. Your doctor will determine if your risk justifies taking these medications.
  • Prophylactic surgery: The most extreme measure by far, prophylactic surgery involves a single or double breast mastectomy, which is an operation that removes one or both of the breasts.

Some breast tissue will inevitably remain after a mastectomy, though, so while your risk of developing breast cancer will be dramatically reduced, it won’t be completely eliminated.

Screening for Breast Cancer

Until 2009, the U.S. government recommended that women receive an annual mammogram starting at age 40. However, analysis of health statistics convinced the government to relax those standards. Now, the official recommendation is that women over 50 get a mammogram every two years. Additionally, mammograms have been shown to be ineffective in women over 75 years old.

Regardless of the official government stance, some independent institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic, still recommend and carry out more aggressive screening practices. Performing regular self-exams for tumors in breast tissue can be beneficial at any age, particularly if you’re at risk.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2010). Breast cancer facts and figures 2009-2010. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@nho/documents/document/f861009final90809pdf.pdf

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Mammogram. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mammogram-guidelines/AN02052