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What Can I Do if I Am at Risk for Breast Cancer?

Photo of woman eating grapes
Ongoing studies are looking at ways to prevent breast cancer through changes in diet.

What can you do if you are at risk for breast cancer? (See Am I at Risk for Breast Cancer for a list of risk factors.) There are some risk factors that you cannot change, as well as some that you can change. The best thing you can do is to try to lower as many of the risks you can change as possible, such as by making certain lifestyle changes. Remember, however, that in some cases, more studies are needed to confirm which of these can have the greatest impact. Here are some things you might want to try to do: 

Drink less alcohol

Try to limit yourself to less than one drink per day.

Exercise

Regular exercise can lower your risk of getting breast cancer by as much as 20 percent. It's not clear exactly how much exercise provides that protection. But most experts recommend that you get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. This includes activities like brisk walking, biking, and swimming.

Breastfeed your baby

Research suggests that the hormones you produce while breastfeeding appear to protect against breast cancer. This is especially true if you breastfeed for 18 months to two years.

Consider taking antiestrogen drugs

Research has shown that antiestrogen drugs like tamoxifen and Evista (raloxifene) help block the effects of estrogen on breast tissue. If you have a lot of risk factors for breast cancer, you may want to discuss this option with your doctor. However, these drugs do carry their own set of risks, including an increased risk for uterine cancer and blood clots.

Think about having a preventive mastectomy

If you have many risk factors for breast cancer and you're extremely worried about getting the disease, you can choose to have one or both of your breasts removed. This is called a preventive or prophylactic mastectomy. But keep in mind that this procedure doesn't guarantee you won't get breast cancer. That's because it's impossible to remove all of your breast tissue. And remember that any surgery carries its own set of risks. Discuss your options carefully with your doctor before making a decision.

Consider having your ovaries removed

If you are finished having children and you have the gene that's linked to breast cancer, you can choose to have your ovaries removed. This will bring on early menopause, which decreases your risk of getting breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of this procedure and your other options for lowering your risk.

Get to and stay at a healthy weight

Women who are overweight, especially after menopause, have a greater chance of getting breast cancer.

Carefully consider the use of postmenopausal hormone therapy

Studies have shown that postmenopausal hormone therapy (also called hormone replacement therapy) increases the risk of getting breast cancer and may increase the risk of dying from breast cancer. The decision to use postmenopausal hormone therapy should be made with your doctor after weighing the possible risks and benefits (including the severity of your menopausal symptoms). If you decide to use postmenopausal hormone therapy for your menopausal symptoms, it is best to use it at the lowest dose and for the shortest time possible.