If you think breast cancer is something you can’t control, think again. While genetics play a role, lifestyle plays a much greater role. Make the decision to take control of your health and lifestyle habits, and you’ll also have greater control of your overall health outcomes.
Especially if you have a history of breast cancer in your family, the following factors may help you mitigate your risk:
1. Maintain a healthy weight– According to the National Cancer Institute, being overweight after menopause increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer and can worsen outcomes after a diagnosis. The American Cancer Society’s 2019 statistics attribute rising rates of the most common type of breast cancer—hormone receptor (HR)-positive—to rising rates of obesity and excess body fat.
2. Exercise and avoid sitting for long periods of time– Experts say that, over the course of a week, you should get either 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of harder, vigorous workouts. In addition, try to avoid sitting for long periods of time, and instead set your timer for frequent stretch breaks and a walk to the kitchen for a tall glass of refreshing water.
3. Limit red meat; eat more fruits & vegetables to increase fiber intake– High consumption of red meat and a lower intake of fruits and vegetables are both associated with breast cancer, particularly estrogen receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer. The USDA says the goal should be to consume 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of veggies each day. Healthful fiber can also be found in beans and whole grains, and eating these high-fiber foods can help lower your breast cancer risk.
4. Limit alcohol – If you’re a woman who has two or three servings a day of wine, beer, or liquor, your risk is 20% higher than one who doesn’t drink at all. Experts say if you want to imbibe, have no more than one drink a day. That only slightly raises your chances of getting breast cancer.
5. Stop smoking –Tobacco use is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, especially in younger women who haven’t gone through menopause. How much you smoke, the age when you started, and how long you continue all affect how likely you are to get the disease.
6. Consider your hormones– Hormonal forms of contraception are linked to a slightly higher chance of breast cancer, but can also protect against other types of tumors. To ease menopause symptoms, some women take hormone replacement therapy, but your risk of breast cancer rises when you take the combination type (estrogen and progesterone) or if you take the estrogen-only type for many years. It’s important to discuss both of these decisions with your doctor, to determine what makes the most sense for your unique situation.
7. Watch out for parabens – When you’re purchasing cosmetics, lotions, and hair products, check the label. If parabens are present, you may want to select a different, paraben-free product. Scientists say that parabens can act like a weak estrogen in your body, which may be able to trigger hormone-positive breast cancer.
8. Let the sun shine – Experts say that having the right levels of Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) can help lower your risk for breast cancer. The best way to get Vitamin D is by letting the sun hit your skin for about 15 minutes a day, preferably at midday. Vitamin D is also in foods like salmon, oysters, and sardines, and is available in supplement form, if your doctor recommends it.
9. Turn out the lights– Being exposed to a lot of light at night may increase your risk of breast cancer, due to the role of melatonin in your body (the hormone that makes you feel sleepy at night.) Be mindful of keeping the lights lower at night, use light-blocking shades, wear a sleeping mask, and if you can’t avoid late-night screen time, make sure you’re using the night shift setting on your device.