Breast Cancer Prevention
- What It Is
- Risk Factors
- Living With
- User Questions
- Alternative Treatment
- Care Guide
- Questions for Your Doctor
- When to Contact a Doctor
- Find a Doctor
- Resource Guide
How to Prevent Breast Cancer
Although certain genetic factors may not be preventable, there are other precautions you can take to decrease your risk of developing Breast Cancer. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, Talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested for the breast and Ovarian Cancer gene mutation (BRCA1 and BRCA2). Women who carry this gene are at very high risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers and should be followed closely.
General precautions you can take to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer include:
Talk to Your Doctor About Screenings
Talk to your doctor about the best screening schedule for you. Breast cancer screenings include:
- Breast self-exam (BSE)-This a step-by-step examination of your breasts that you do yourself. BSE is done on a regular schedule, usually once a month. Doing BSE has benefits and risks. There is a lack of evidence that this exam can reduce your risk of death from breast cancer. Organizations differ in their recommendations for this screening:
- American Cancer Society (ACS)-optional for women aged 20 and older
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)-does recommend BSE
- United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)-does not recommend BSE
- Clinical breast exam-This involves your doctor carefully feeling your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other unusual changes. Recommendations for this screening also differ:
- ACS-women aged 20-39 should have the exam every three years, and every year for women aged 40 and older
- ACOG-every year
- USPSTF- no recommendations for this exam
- Mammogram-This is a special x-ray of the breast that may be able to find tumors that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. If you have no symptoms and are not at a high risk for breast cancer, the recommendations for this screening include:
- ACS-women aged 40 and older should have the test done annually
- ACOG-women aged 40-49 should have the test every 1-2 years, and every year for women aged 50-74 years
- USPSTF-screening for women younger than 50 years based on individuals informed decision, and every two years for women aged 50-74
If you have a very strong family history of breast cancer and also have the breast and ovarian cancer gene mutation (BRCA1, BRCA2), you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of having a mastectomy before cancer deveops.
Limit Exposure to Estrogen When Possible
High levels of estrogen have been linked to the development of breast cancer. For older women, the greatest exposure to estrogen is via postmenopausal hormone replacement. Therefore, you should have a frank conversation with your doctor as to the risks and benefits of estrogen replacement relative to breast cancer.
Other lifestyle factors may also increase your exposure to estrogen. If possible, try to limit these factors:
- Overweight after the age of Menopause
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity
There are two FDA-approved medicines to prevent invasive breast cancer in high-risk, postmenopausal women. tamoxifen and raloxifene work by blocking estrogen from binding to "estrogen-sensitive" cells, which prevents the cells from growing and dividing. These medicines do however increase your chances of having blood clots and Stroke.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight-particularly after menopause-may increase your chance of developing breast cancer. This is due to the fact that after menopause, most of the estrogen in a woman's body comes from her fat tissue. The more fat on the body, the higher the degree of estrogen.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Studies have shown that women who drink 2-4 alcoholic drinks daily have a 40% greater risk of developing breast cancer than nondrinkers. This may be due to the fact that alcohol may alter the way a woman's body metabolizes estrogen and may cause blood estrogen levels to rise, increasing the risk of breast cancer onset.
Do Not Smoke
Tobacco Use Disorder greatly increases your risk of several cancers, including breast cancer.
Exercise helps maintain weight and modulates high levels of estrogen. It is also believed that low to moderate levels of exercise may enhance the immune system, which ultimately may slow the growth rate or kill cancer cells. Overall, exercise has many benefits and is recommended for overall health and reducing the risk of breast cancer.