8 Everyday ways to lower your risk of breast cancer

Some risk factors, like family history, can’t be changed. But making smart lifestyle choices can significantly lower your chances of getting breast cancer and other cancers.

Think breast cancer is out of your control? Think again. A recent study showed that even women with a strong family history can lower your risk of getting the disease by following some simple guidelines.  

So, take prevention into your own hands with the science-backed strategies below. Can’t do them all? That’s OK! Doing just 1 of the first 3 on our list can cut your risk of breast cancer by 27%. And you can always add more steps when you’re ready. Let’s get started.  

1. Get some daily exercise.   

Exercise can help you stay healthy today. It also lowers your risk of breast cancer over time. Women who walked about an hour each day had a 23% lower risk over time compared to women who moved less. 

“It appears that exercise lowers inflammatory markers that are associated with breast cancer,” says Kristi DeSapri, M.D., director of Bone and Body Women’s Health in Winnetka, Illinois. Dr. DeSapri is a professor of medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.   

Need a little motivation to get moving? Set a specific fitness goal. Some ideas:   

  • Take at least 5,000 steps a day.  
  • Walk for at least 2 hours a week.   
  • Try 1 new workout each week. 

Be sure to track your progress along the way. And don’t forget to celebrate your successes! It can inspire you to move more. A tool like the Wellframe smartphone app can help you stay on track. You can use Wellframe to set workout reminders and count your daily steps. Many health plans offer Wellframe as a no-cost benefit to their members.    

2. Keep a healthy weight.   

Being overweight has been linked to breast cancer. It raises levels of hormones that can cause some kinds of breast cancer to form, says Dr. DeSapri. “For every 11 pounds a woman gains after age 18, her risk of breast cancer rises by 7%.” 

For help losing weight, talk to your primary care provider (PCP). They can suggest tools to help you reach a weight that’s right for you. You might also be able to join a covered weight loss program through the Wellframe app.   

3. Go easy on alcohol.   

Alcohol can raise levels of cancer-causing hormones. The more you drink, the more your breast cancer risk goes up. For example, women who have 1 drink a day have about a 7% higher risk than non-drinkers. Women who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk. To play it safe, cut back on alcohol. Better yet, skip it altogether.   

4. Eat a plant-based diet.   

Women who eat a healthy, plant-based diet have an almost 20% lower risk of breast cancer. That’s compared to those who eat a less healthy diet that’s high in refined grains and sugar.   

“We know that a diet high in saturated fat causes your insulin to rise. And it raises your risk of being overweight or obese. These are all things linked to an increased risk of breast cancer,” says Dr. DeSapri.   

Don’t want to give up meat? A plant-based diet doesn’t have to be meat free. Instead, focus on filling up on other, good-for-you foods. You’ll naturally eat less meat overall. Here are some healthy foods to put on your go-to list.  

  • Fruits.   
  • Veggies.   
  • Whole grains.   
  • Nuts.   
  • Legumes. Examples: lentils, peas, beans.    
  • Healthy fats. Examples: fatty fish like salmon, avocado, olive oil.  

5. Stop smoking.   

“We know that nicotine and tobacco can lead to breast tumors,” says Dr. DeSapri. Smoking also raises your risk for heart disease, lung cancer, and more.   

Quitting can be tough. But you don’t have to go it alone. Talk to your PCP about helpful tools like nicotine replacement therapy. Many health plans also offer programs to help you quit through the Wellframe app.   

6. Be mindful of harmful chemicals.   

There’s not enough evidence yet to know whether certain chemicals raise the risk of breast cancer, says Dr. DeSapri. But groups like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) warn that some may play a role. These include:  

  • PFAS. This group of chemicals is used to make products like nonstick cookware and waterproof fabrics. To find out if something has PFAS, search the EWG’s Skin Deep database.   
  • Pesticides. If possible, choose organic foods. They’re grown without pesticides. You can also check the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. It shows which fruits and veggies are least likely to be contaminated.   
  • Hair colorants, relaxers, and dyes. Some of them have been linked to breast cancer. Again, the EWG Skin Deep database is a handy tool. Use it to find hair products with safer ingredients.   

7. Stay up to date on your breast cancer screenings.   

These can include imaging tests like:    

  • Mammograms.  
  • Ultrasounds.  
  • MRIs.  

Talk to your doctor about the right screening schedule for you. Do you have a family history of breast cancer? If so, your doctor may also suggest genetic counseling. This can help you figure out a more personal prevention plan.   

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