Preventing Breast Cancer

10 Ways to Lower Your Risk

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women aside from lung cancer. It is estimated that one in every eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.

While there are certain risk factors that can't be changed, such as genetics, studies published in 2014 have shown that certain lifestyle habits combined with other healthcare strategies can lower your risk.

Technician with patient getting mammogram
Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Lifestyle Changes

Get Physical

Physical activity may reduce your risk of breast cancer. Studies published in 2014 by the Women's Health Initiative found women who walked briskly one to two hours per week reduced breast cancer risk by 18%. Exercise doesn't always mean traditional gym exercises either. You can dance, chase your kids, play a sport—whatever gets your heart pumping.

Skip the Alcohol

Women who consume two to five drinks daily have about one and a half times the risk of breast cancer as women who don't consume alcohol. The American Cancer Society recommends women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage a day. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).

Quit Smoking

Numerous studies have shown an association between smoking and the risk of developing breast cancer, as well as the risk of recurrence. Inhaling secondhand smoke also is believed to contribute to an increased risk. Smokefree.gov has lots of resources to help you quit.

Eat a Low-Fat Diet

A diet low in fat not only decreases the risk of obesity, but it can also reduce your risk of breast cancer. It's known estrogen plays a major role in the development of breast cancer and that fat tissue contains small amounts of the hormone. Thus far, there is no definitive research about the effect of fat intake in general and breast cancer risk, but numerous studies have concluded obesity plays a big part in breast cancer development.

Conceive Early

It's not always possible to plan when or if you get pregnant, but research has shown that having no biological children, or having your first child in your mid-30s or later, increases the risk for breast cancer.

Breastfeed

Researchers believe the months without a period during pregnancy and breastfeeding may reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer. This accompanies data that suggests late-onset menstruation and early menopause reduce risk as well, due to the smaller window of estrogen exposure over a lifetime.

Healthcare Strategies

Know Your Family History

Having a family or personal history of breast cancer increases your risk. If an immediate relative, such as your mother or sister, has had breast cancer, it is important to let your doctor know, as breast cancer can be genetic.

Genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, as well as counseling, are available for those concerned about their risk. Keep in mind, however, that just because your mother or sister had breast cancer does not mean you will definitely develop the disease.

Don't Have Hormone Replacement Therapy

Studies have shown a connection between ​longtime hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer. This link suggests HRT with a combination of estrogen and progesterone raises the risk. Five years after discontinuing HRT, the risk drops. If you need to take hormone replacement therapy, talk to your doctor about weighing the risks and benefits.

Examine Your Breasts Monthly

Checking your breasts every month may not reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, but it may help detect breast cancer early. The earlier breast cancer is found, the more treatable it is.

Get a Mammogram

Like the breast self-exam, a mammogram won't prevent the development of breast cancer, but it can detect cancer. Sometimes it can be difficult to feel a lump in the breast, and a mammogram is likely to detect any lumps that cannot be felt. For most women, an annual or biannual mammogram starting at age 40 to 50 is recommended.

A Word From Verywell

There is no way to guarantee you won't get breast cancer, but implementing simple strategies may help you avoid it. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to modify any unhealthy lifestyle habits you may have. They can also advise you on how often to get routine screening tests and whether you are a candidate for genetic testing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I lower my risk of breast cancer by eating a lot of soy?

    Maybe, but the potential for soy to help prevent breast cancer comes with caveats. Studies suggest it must be eaten in high quantities over the course of a lifetime to be protective. In Japan, for example, where breast cancer rates are relatively low, adults eat from 30 milligrams (mg) to 50 mg of soy per day, whereas in the United States the average is less than 3 mg.

  • What vitamins can I take to prevent breast cancer?

    No specific vitamins are known to prevent breast cancer outright but several—beta carotene (which converts to vitamin A in the body) and vitamins B6 and D3—have been found to potentially slow or prevent certain changes that happen at a cellular level in the development of breast cancer.

  • How do polyphenols protect against breast cancer?

    Polyphenols may prevent changes in DNA that lead to breast cancer. They may also turn on genes that suppress tumors. The specific polyphenols found in studies to have these effects include genistein (in soy), epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG, found in green tea), and resveratrol (in red wine, red and purple grapes, certain berries, and dark chocolate).

  • What foods put me at a higher risk of breast cancer?

    No food has been definitively found to promote breast cancer, but there are some you may be wise to limit, especially if you're at high risk due to a family history of breast cancer:

    • "Unhealthy" fats, such as those from processed foods
    • Meat cooked at high temperatures
    • Red meat (particularly for postmenopausal women)
    • Alcohol, which has been found in epidemiological studies to be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer—the more a person drinks, the higher the risk
    • Foods high in iron, including red meat, foods fortified with iron, and iron supplements
  • What are some ways I can keep breast cancer from coming back?

    Start by adopting the same lifestyle modifications recommended to prevent the disease (healthy diet, getting regular activity, limited alcohol). In addition:

    • Take medications such as tamoxifen or an endocrine therapy drug as prescribed.
    • Keep up with basic health care (dental check-ups, flu shot, vaccinations, and medical screenings).
    • Maintain your mental and emotional health (join a support group, say, or see a therapist).
    • Manage stress (meditate, practice yoga, or take up a hobby, for example).
  • What can men do to lower the risk of breast cancer?

    Men with a family history who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes should have annual breast exams by a doctor as well as do self-examination starting at age 35, according to 2018 National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines. These measures won't prevent male breast cancer but they are key to finding it as early as possible.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Breastcancer.org. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics.

  2. Hashemi SH, Karimi S, Mahboobi H. Lifestyle changes for prevention of breast cancer. Electron Physician. 2014;6(3):894-905. doi:10.14661/2014.894-905

  3. Kwan K, Chlebowski RT, Mctiernan A, et al. Walking speed, physical activity, and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2014;23(1):49-52. doi:10.1097/CEJ.0b013e328361627e

  4. American Cancer Society. Can I Lower My Risk of Breast Cancer? Updated September 10, 2019.

  5. Kispert S, Mchowat J. Recent insights into cigarette smoking as a lifestyle risk factor for breast cancer. Breast Cancer (Dove Med Press). 2017;9:127-132. doi:10.2147/BCTT.S129746

  6. Picon-ruiz M, Morata-tarifa C, Valle-goffin JJ, Friedman ER, Slingerland JM. Obesity and adverse breast cancer risk and outcome: Mechanistic insights and strategies for intervention. CA Cancer J Clin. 2017;67(5):378-397. doi:10.3322/caac.21405

  7. National Cancer Institute. Reproductive History and Cancer Risk. Updated November 9, 2016.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer? Updated September 11, 2018.

  9. Lupo M, Dains JE, Madsen LT. Hormone Replacement Therapy: An Increased Risk of Recurrence and Mortality for Breast Cancer PatientsJ Adv Pract Oncol. 2015;6(4):322–330.

  10. ObGyn. ACOG recommends women start mammography between ages 40 and 50 years. Published June 22, 2017.

  11. Messina M. Impact of soy foods on the development of breast cancer and the prognosis of breast cancer patients. Forsch Komplementmed. 2016;23(2):75-80. doi:10.1159/000444735

  12. Mokbel K, Mokbel K. Chemoprevention of breast cancer with vitamins and micronutrients: a concise reviewIn Vivo. 2019;33(4):983-997. doi:10.21873/invivo.11568

  13. Selvakumar P, Badgeley A, Murphy P, et al. Flavonoids and other polyphenols act as epigenetic modifiers in breast cancerNutrients. 2020;12(3):761. doi:10.3390/nu12030761

  14. Kotepui M. Diet and risk of breast cancerContemp Oncol (Pozn). 2016;20(1):13-19. doi:10.5114/wo.2014.40560

  15. John's Hopkins Medicine. Reducing risk of occurrence: Ten lifestyle changes that may help.

  16. Gao Y, Heller SL, Moy L. Male breast cancer in the age of genetic testing: an opportunity for early detection, tailored therapy, and surveillanceRadiographics. 2018;38(5):1289-1311. doi:10.1148/rg.2018180013