Tips for Living a Healthy Lifestyle to Lower Breast Cancer Risk

The start of the New Year can be a time when people prioritize taking better care of themselves. There are many benefits to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but what does healthy living look like and why does it matter?

About one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, making breast cancer one of the most common diseases affecting women in the US. While about 5-10 percent of breast cancer cases in the US are related to an inherited gene mutation, most cases are linked to other factors – including lifestyle.

Here are a few ways to incorporate healthy habits, which could also lower your risk of developing breast cancer:

1. Maintain A Healthy Weight

Gaining weight as an adult increases your risk of breast cancer. According to one large study, women who gain 20 pounds after the age of 18 have a 15 percent higher risk compared to women who gained little or no weight. Those who gain 55 pounds or more increase their risk by 45 percent. So, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight.

Being overweight or obese after menopause can increase a woman’s breast cancer risk by 30-60 percent. That’s because fat cells make estrogen after menopause, and higher levels of estrogen are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause.

2. Stay Active 

Women who get regular physical activity have about a 10-20 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who don’t. Fortunately, you don’t need an intense exercise routine to get the benefits. Activity equal to walking 30 minutes a day may lower your risk. So, lace-up your athletic shoes and get going!

3. Limit Alcohol Intake

One study found women who had 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day had a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who don’t drink. Women should limit alcohol intake to less than 1 drink a day and men to less than 2 drinks a day.

4. Eat Fruits and Vegetables

Studies show eating fruits and veggies may slightly decrease the risk of some breast cancers. It is recommended to eat produce high in carotenoids, the natural orange-red food pigments found in melons, carrots, sweet potatoes and squash. Studies show women with high blood levels of carotenoids have a decreased risk of breast cancer. In general, fruits and vegetables are the best sources of carotenoids (rather than supplements) as supplements may have some health risks.

5. Limit saturated fats and trans fats

The types of fat we eat may play a role in breast cancer risk. A study of nearly 320,000 European women pointed to a slight correlation between breast cancer incidence and a high intake of saturated fat, which is abundant in foods such as red meat and full-fat dairy. Trans fats, frequently found in baked snacks and other processed foods, may also raise breast cancer risk. While dietary fats undergo further study, consider opting for the healthy unsaturated fats found in foods such as nuts, seeds, olive and canola oils, avocados and fatty fish.

6. Don’t Smoke

Tobacco smoke has at least 250 harmful chemicals, at least 69 of which have been shown to cause cancer. There’s growing evidence that smoking may slightly increase breast cancer risk. If you smoke, there are health benefits to quitting at any age. Stopping, or not starting, is one of the best things you can do.

7. Breastfeed, If You Can

Breastfeeding has many positive benefits for women throughout their lives. In addition to reducing the risk of breast cancer, especially in premenopausal women, studies show it lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes and ovarian cancer.

8. Limit the Hormones

Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) is approved for short-term relief of menopausal symptoms. But women who take estrogen plus progestin to relieve these symptoms increase their risk of getting breast cancer and dying from it. Fortunately, when they stop MHT, their risk starts to decline, returning to normal levels within 5-10 years. If you are considering MHT, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits.

*Susan Brown, MS, RN, is the senior director of health information and publications at Susan G. Komen®. Prior to joining Komen, Brown worked as an oncology nurse.