While lifestyle factors may impact your risk for developing breast cancer, the risk factors with the greatest impact include sex and age.
Certain lifestyle choices may affect your breast cancer risk. Some strategies can help reduce your risk. For example, according to the
And if you’ve had breast cancer, these lifestyle choices can also help reduce the risk of a recurrence.
You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female” or “men” and “women.”
Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings. Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.
The following risk factors for breast cancer cannot be controlled:
- Although people of all genders can get breast cancer, being female is the top risk factor for breast cancer. Breast cancer is 100 times less common in white men than white women, and breast cancer is 70 times less common in Black men than Black women, according to the
American Cancer Society (ACS).
- Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age. According to the CDC, breast cancer is most prevalent in females ages
50 and older.
- Having a family or personal
history of breast cancermeans you have a higher risk.
- Some people carry genetic mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 that make them more susceptible to breast cancer. Genetic testing is the only way to know if you carry this genetic mutation.
- If you were younger than 12 when you started menstruating or older than 55 at menopause, your risk of breast cancer is also
- If you’ve received radiation to the chest, especially as a child or young adult, you might be at an
Ethnicity as a risk factor
Different ethnic groups and populations from certain geographic areas may tend to carry different variants of the
Other geographic populations, including Norwegian, Dutch, and Icelandic peoples, can also have these mutations that raise their risk of breast cancer.
White females are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than Black and Hispanic females. Native American and Asian females appear to have a
While they have a lower incidence of breast cancer than white females, Black females are more likely to die of breast cancer. They are also more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier age and to have more advanced and aggressive disease. One reason for some of the disparities between ethnic groups may be inequities in healthcare.
- social determinants of health, or the conditions in which people live that affect health, quality of life, and health risks
- allostatic load, or the effects of chronic stress
- the biology of the tumor
- access to high quality care and clinical trials
Benign breast conditions as risk factors
Atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH), and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) are atypical cells that can develop in your breast tissue. These atypical cells can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
A doctor can identify these conditions through a biopsy. The doctor may recommend taking a medication to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
Some risk factors may be related to lifestyle, including:
- Taking birth control pills or hormone therapy after menopause
may increaseyour risk of breast cancer.
- Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. If you have two to three drinks daily, you may have a
20 percent higher riskof developing breast cancer.
- Being overweight, especially after menopause,
increases your risk.
You may gain some protection against breast cancer by breastfeeding or chestfeeding.
Pregnancy as a risk factor
But pregnancy may also raise the risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer.
The ACS has updated its
- achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight throughout your life
- being physically active
- eating whole food that is high in nutrients, which can help you maintain a moderate body weight
- eating a variety of vegetables and fruits
- eating whole grains
- limiting red and processed meat
- limiting sugar-sweetened beverages
- limiting highly processed foods and refined grain products
- avoiding alcohol or limiting your intake, if you drink alcohol
Being overweight is also a known risk factor.
Here are a few tips for healthful eating:
- Watch portion sizes. Take a little less than you think you’ll eat. Eat slowly, so you’ll recognize when you’re starting to get full before you overeat.
- Review food labels carefully. “Low-fat” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy or low calorie. Avoid processed foods that are high in calories but offer little or no nutritional value.
- Eat veggies and fruits. Aim for 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and fruits a day. Fresh, canned, and frozen foods are all acceptable.
- Eat whole grains. Choose whole-grain foods over those made with refined grains.
- Choose healthy proteins. Eat beans, chicken, or fish in place of processed and red meats.
- Check the fats. Look for polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fats.
- Watch what you drink. Avoid alcoholic drinks or limit your intake if you drink alcohol. The ACS guidelines recommend that women consume no more than one drink per day and men consume no more than two. Replace high calorie, sugary drinks with water.
- Set realistic goals. Don’t rush any weight loss. Crash diets can be unhealthy and unsustainable. For some people, keeping a food journal may be helpful.
Small changes throughout the day can also help you get more movement in. This can include choosing parking spaces that force you to walk a little or using stairs instead of the elevator. You can also try to avoid long periods of inactivity. If you spend your day sitting at a desk, take a few minutes every hour to get up and stretch or incorporate standing into your routine, if you can.
In addition to lowering your risk of cancer, a few dietary changes and regular exercise can help boost your energy levels and mood.
If you’re overweight or have a medical condition, talk with a doctor before starting a strenuous exercise program. Working with a personal trainer or nutritionist might also be beneficial.
It’s important that you discuss breast cancer screening options with a doctor, especially if you have known risk factors. A doctor can advise you on the best ways to maintain your health.