8 Ways to Prevent Breast Cancer

Breast cancer. Just reading those words can make many women worry. And that’s natural.

Nearly everyone knows someone touched by the disease. But there is a lot of good news about breast cancer these days. Treatments keep getting better, and we know more than ever about ways to prevent the disease. These eight simple steps can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Not everyone applies to every woman, but as a whole, they can have a big impact.
  1. Keep Weight in Check

It’s easy to ignore because it gets said so often, but maintaining a healthy weight is important for everyone. Being overweight can increase the risk of many different cancers, including breast cancer, especially after menopause.

  1. Be Physically Active

Exercise is as close to a silver bullet for good health as there is. Women who are exercise for at least 30 minutes a day have a lower risk of breast cancer. Regular exercise is also one of the best ways to help keep weight in check.

  1. Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables – and Limit Alcohol (Zero is Best)

A healthy diet can help lower the risk of breast cancer. Try to eat a lot of fruits and veggies and limit alcohol. Even low levels of drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer. And with other risks of alcohol, not drinking is the overall best choice for your health.

  1. Don’t Smoke

On top of its many other health risks, smoking causes at least 15 different cancers – including breast cancer. If you smoke, try to quit as soon as possible. It’s almost never too late to get benefits. You can do it. And getting help can double your chances of quitting for good: visit smokefree.gov or call 800-QUIT-NOW (in IL 866-QUIT-YES).

  1. Breastfeed, If Possible

Breastfeeding for a total of one year or more (combined for all children) lowers the risk of breast cancer. It also has great health benefits for the child. For breastfeeding information or support, contact your pediatrician, hospital or local health department.

  1. Avoid Birth Control Pills, Particularly After Age 35 or If You Smoke

Birth control pills have both risks and benefits. The younger a woman is, the lower the risks are. While women are taking birth control pills, they have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. This risk goes away quickly, though, after stopping the pill. The risk of stroke and heart attack is also increased while on the pill – particularly if a woman smokes. But long-term use can also have important benefits, like lowering the risk of ovarian, colon and uterine cancers. Birth control pills also prevent unwanted pregnancy, so there’s also a lot in their favor. If you’re very concerned about breast cancer, avoiding birth control pills is one option to lower risk.

  1. Avoid Hormone Therapy for Menopause

Hormone therapy in menopause shouldn’t be taken long term to prevent chronic diseases. Studies show its mixed effects on health, raising the risk of some diseases and lowering the risk of others. Whether estrogen is taken by itself or it’s combined with progestin, hormones increase the risk of breast cancer. If women do take hormone therapy during menopause, it should be for the shortest time possible. The best person to talk to about the risks and benefits of hormone therapy for menopause is your doctor.

  1. Tamoxifen and Raloxifene for Women at High Risk

Although not commonly thought of as a “healthy behavior,” taking the drugs tamoxifen and raloxifene can greatly lower the risk of breast cancer in woman at high risk of the disease. Approved by the FDA for breast cancer prevention, these powerful drugs can have side effects, so they aren’t right for everyone. If you think you’re at high risk, talk to your doctor to see if these drugs may be right for you.

Find Out Your Family History

Women with a strong family history of cancer can take special steps to protect themselves. That’s why it’s key for women to know their family history. You’re at higher risk if you have a mother or sister who had breast or ovarian cancer. This risk is even higher if your relative was diagnosed at an early age. Having multiple family members (including males) who had breast, ovarian or prostate cancer also raises your risk. A doctor or genetic counselor can help explain your family history of the disease.

Don’t Forget Mammograms

Breast cancer screening with mammograms saves lives. It doesn’t help prevent cancer, but it can help find cancer early when it’s more treatable.

Most women should get yearly mammograms starting at age 40.

Women at higher risk for breast cancer may need to start getting screened earlier. It’s best to talk to a doctor by age 30 about your risk and whether you’d benefit from earlier screening.

Because regular breast self-exams haven’t proven to be beneficial, they aren’t recommended for screening. Still, knowing your breasts is key. Tell your doctor right away if you notice any changes in how your breasts look or feel.

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