Health & Wellness Articles

A Woman's Guide to Breast Cancer Prevention

Tips to Reduce Your Risk

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Almost one out of nine women is expected to develop breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women.

So far, researchers haven't found any fool-proof way to prevent breast cancer except voluntary mastectomy (surgical removal of the breasts) for women at extremely high risk. Short of taking this drastic step, the best way a woman can protect herself against breast cancer is by practicing early detection methods and by reducing known risk factors. If breast cancer is found and treated early—before it has spread beyond the breast—the five-year survival rate is greater than 95 percent.

Are You at Risk?
Over 200,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Here are the common risk factors associated with the disease:
  • Being female. Breast cancer is most prevalent in women, although men can develop the disease as well. While Caucasian women are more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American females, the death rates are 30 percent higher for African-Americans.
  • Getting your period young. Starting your period before the age of 12 increases your chances of developing breast cancer, possibly due to greater exposure to hormones over the course of a lifetime.
  • Family history. If anyone in your immediate family (mother, sister, or daughter) has had breast cancer, you are also at greater risk. Breast cancer can run in families, but this does not mean you will automatically develop the disease. Genetic testing and counseling is available for women concerned about their risk.
  • Late childbearing or no childbearing. Becoming pregnant for the first time at age 26 or older—or never getting pregnant at all—puts you at risk. In contrast, having multiple children reduces your risk of developing breast cancer, possibly because of protective hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.
  • Heavy drinking. While the occasional alcoholic drink is okay, consuming more than two drinks per day increases your chances of developing breast cancer. Women who consume two to five drinks each day are about 1-1/2 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t drink.
  • Smoking, especially at a young age. Studies have suggested that smoking at an early age can increase your risk of breast cancer. A study by the Dankook University College of Medicine in Korea found that the breast cancer-promoting effects of smoking were strongest in young women who had not yet had children. The risk may be lower after childbearing because, by then, breast cells have finished developing and are less vulnerable to carcinogens.
  • Being overweight. General obesity has been associated with increased breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women. But the amount of weight gained in adult life is a greater predictor of breast cancer risk than weight alone, according to a study from Morehead State University in Kentucky. Their researchers found that women who gained more than 60 pounds between age 20 and menopause had a roughly 70 percent higher risk of breast cancer, compared with women who gained fewer than 20 pounds. There was a 4 percent increase in risk for each 11 pounds gained as an adult.
  • Eating a high-fat diet. In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the National Cancer Institute found that women who consumed the most fat—regardless of what type—were 15% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who ate the least fat.
  • Hormone replacement therapy. Studies have shown a strong link between post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer. If you need HRT, talk to your doctor to determine your personal risk level. Continued ›
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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

    this is the 3rd or 4th Breast Cancer Awareness ad or article I've seen this weekend with NO African-American women in them. Does that mean SparkPeople doesn't believe African-American women don't get breast cancer? - 10/6/2013 10:26:01 PM

    Putting all this money into research for after we get it is like putting a fire out is easier by not starting it. Harder to fix after you have it. JUST EAT BETTER. Mainstream medicine and big pharma are making money off of this because there is no money on eating better. - 10/3/2013 10:54:59 PM
  • The SparkPeople email subject was: 8 Healthy Habits That Prevent Breast Cancer

    and it featured this article.

    I find that very misleading. As has been demonstrated repeatedly in these comments, there is NO way to PREVENT breast cancer.

    This is very unfortunate, hurtful and misleading and falls short of my high expectations for SparkPeople's quality. - 10/2/2013 8:56:03 PM
  • Thanks AZUR-SKY. I never really looked at it as if no one in my family doesn't have it. It doesn't mean I can't get it. - 10/2/2013 5:30:22 PM
    I had none of the risk factors (other than being female) and still developed breast cancer at 45. I followed the eight things you can do for yourself. I discovered it in a self breast exam. So never believe you can't get it. And it is curable. I am a thirty year survivor. - 10/2/2013 12:04:45 PM
    i'm so glad to read all that hav been said but since u mentioned that breast cancer can be found sometimes in men too, i was expecting u to elaborate a little on how men can also avoid and control theirs. - 10/5/2012 10:13:47 AM
  • Age 26 is considered "late childbearing?" Seriously?? - 10/3/2012 7:07:45 PM
    Thank you for mentioning breastfeeding! Too many women do not know about this. - 10/2/2012 12:44:11 PM
    Please stop lumping saturated fats with trans fats and excess omega-6s.

    The study mentioned about a high fat diet, while I didn't see a reference I would assume it's an observational study and thus can only show correlation, which does not equal causation. There are also observational studies showing women who eat less fat had higher rates of cancer.

    Either way, saturated fats are not causing ill-health since they are part of our natural way of eating. Many tribes consuming their native diets with plenty of animal (sat fats) did not suffer high rates of breast cancer. - 10/2/2012 12:42:58 PM
  • This article ignores environmental causes of cancer. Why is that?

    Check out BREAST CANCER ACTION for information on prevention that doesn't blame the victim. Also has many articles about cancer prevention and holistic treatment options. - 10/2/2012 10:10:22 AM
    Don't get me wrong, I think it is great to educate people on ways to be healthy. But Prevention makes it sound like if you do all these WON"T get breast cancer. There's no way to guarantee this will prevent breast cancer. I hope people understand it reduces your risk.
    I have had friends or family members tell me if I eat this or that it will keep me from getting cancer. I tell them if this food will cure cancer then they should broadcast it on the news. This is a serious diease and it is not that simple to keep from getting it, although I wish it were.
    - 10/2/2012 6:50:13 AM
  • Breast cancer is the #1 reason I'm losing weight and getting healthy. I have all the "uncontrollable" risk factors for it [my father died of breast cancer, YES MEN CAN GET IT TOO, and genetic testing shows that I have the BRCA2 gene] so I'm doing what's within my power to decrease my chances of developing it. I eat healthy and exercise regularly, I've never smoked a day in my life and only drink alcohol occasionally. Unfortunately, with my genes, this may not be enough... but I'm decreasing the odds at least. - 7/2/2012 8:10:04 AM
  • October 13 is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness day; I think you should have done an article on that.

    There are many women, including me, living with stage IV breast cancer that is incurable. - 10/13/2011 3:49:19 PM
  • When will this site start acknowledging that MEN get breast cancer as well? - 10/13/2011 10:40:06 AM
  • I'm a 12 year breast cancer survivor. I just want to get the point out that if you have no one in your family with breast cancer, that doesn't mean YOU're not at risk.

    NO ONE in my family had breast cancer before I was diagnosed, and NO ONE in my family has been diagnosed in the past 12 years. I am the youngest child in my family, and the youngest of my generation of cousins - no cancer anywhere.

    I had my first mammogram at age 35 (very proactive gyn!), and I was diagnosed at age 46, after I found the lump. Then I had a mammogram that was inconclusive. My doctor told me I had the choice of either waiting 6 months to have another mammogram, or to have a biopsy. I chose the biopsy, it was cancer, and it had already spread to the lymph nodes, even though the tumor was only 1.2 centimeters.

    Don't be complacent! Do your monthly exams and get your annual mammograms!!!!! - 10/8/2010 4:17:11 PM

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