Prevention

Prevention

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There are things you can do to help lower your risk of breast cancer, including some lifestyle choices. Learn more to inform your decisions around risk factors that are within your control.


Lifestyle Choices and Breast Cancer Risk

  • Alcohol use: Use of alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Being overweight or obese: Being overweight or obese is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, especially for women after menopause and if the weight gain took place during adulthood.
  • Lack of exercise: Studies show that exercise reduces breast cancer risk.
  • Not having children or having them later in life: Women who have not had children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Being pregnant more than once and at an earlier age reduces breast cancer risk. The reason may be because pregnancy reduces a woman's total number of lifetime menstrual cycles.
  • Recent use of birth control pills: Studies have found that women who are using birth control pills have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. Women who stopped using the pill years ago do not seem to have any increased risk. Get more information specific to you from your doctor about the risks and benefits of birth control pills.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy (PHT): Postmenopausal hormone therapy (also known as hormone replacement therapy) has been used for many years to help relieve symptoms of the menopause and to help prevent thinning of the bones, or osteoporosis. There are two main types of PHT:
    • For women who have a uterus, doctors generally prescribe oestrogen and progesterone, known as combined PHT. Oestrogen alone can increase the risk of cancer of the uterus, so progesterone is added to help prevent this.
    • For women who no longer have a uterus (those who've had a hysterectomy), oestrogen alone can be prescribed. This is commonly known as oestrogen replacement therapy (ORT).
  • Combined PHT: It has become clear that the use of combined PHT for several years or more increases the risk of breast cancer and may increase the chances of dying of breast cancer. Breast cancer may also be discovered at an advanced stage, perhaps because PHT seems to reduce the effectiveness of mammograms. Five years after stopping PHT, the breast cancer risk has been shown to drop back to normal.
  • ORT: The use of oestrogen alone does not seem to increase the risk of developing breast cancer much, if at all. But when used for more than 10 years, some studies have found that ORT increases the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
  • Not breast-feeding: Some studies have shown that breastfeeding slightly lowers breast cancer risk, especially if the breastfeeding lasts 1½ to 2 years. This could be because breastfeeding lowers a woman's total number of menstrual periods, in the same way as pregnancy does.
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