There are several things that can lower your risk of breast cancer:
Limit the Amount of Alcohol You Drink
For breast cancer, there is no safe limit for drinking alcohol. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol can raise your risk. Compared with no drinks a day, each daily alcoholic drink raises your risk of getting breast cancer by almost 10%.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are not at a healthy weight, losing even a small amount of weight can help lower the risk to your health. Small changes in your diet and physical activity may be enough to help you become healthier.
Being physically active can improve your health, well-being and quality of life, and lower your risk of cancer.
Being “active” does not mean just formal exercise programs — lots of everyday activities, such as gardening, housework, walking to work or the store, or dancing, also count. Being active may also help you to reach and keep a healthy weight.
Talk to Your Doctor About the Benefits and Risks of Birth Control Pills and Hormone Replacement Therapy
If you have taken birth control pills, you may have a higher risk of breast cancer than a woman who has never taken them. When you stop taking birth control pills, your risk of breast cancer starts to go down.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be used to treat the symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes. Taking HRT may raise your risk of breast cancer, especially if you take the type that contains both estrogen and progesterone for a long time. Your risk quickly falls after you stop taking HRT.
Be sure to speak with your doctor or nurse practitioner before making any medication changes.
Learn About the Effects of Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Being pregnant and giving birth, especially earlier in life, may lower your risk of getting breast cancer. Breastfeeding, particularly for 1 year or more over the course of a lifetime, may also lower your breast cancer risk.
Check If You Are High Risk
The genes you are born with and whether your family members have had cancer also play a part in your risk of getting cancer. Some women have gene mutations that run in their family and increase their risk for breast cancer (e.g., BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53, PTEN, CDH1). Most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a significant family history of the disease.
Genetic testing may tell if you have genetic changes (mutations) that increase the risk of certain cancers, like breast cancer. Genetic testing may be right for you if any of the following are true:
- You have a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- You are diagnosed with breast cancer before age 35
- You have a strong family history of breast, ovarian or related cancers. The more relatives you have with a history of cancer and the younger they were when diagnosed, the higher your chances are of having a genetic mutation
- You are a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister or child) of someone who has a gene mutation that increases their risk for breast cancer (e.g., BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53, PTEN, CDH1)
- You have a family history of male breast cancer
- You are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent
Women who meet the referral criteria on the OBSP Requisition for High Risk Screening are referred to the High Risk Ontario Breast Screening Program (High Risk OBSP) by their doctor. To find out if you are eligible, you may be referred to a High Risk OBSP site or a genetics clinic, which will do a genetic assessment and, if appropriate, genetic testing.
Talk to your doctor to see if you would benefit from genetic assessment.
For more screening information, visit the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care's breast cancer screening services.
For more details on genetic testing, visit the Canadian Cancer Society.