Many factors can influence your breast cancer risk, and most women who develop breast cancer do not have any known risk factors or a history of the disease in their families. However, you can help lower your risk of breast cancer in the following ways:
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly (at least four hours a week).
- Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
- Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer (carcinogens).
- Try to reduce your exposure to radiation during medical tests like mammograms, X-rays, CT
scans, and PET scans.
- If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives
(birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you
For women at increased risk of breast cancer
If you are a woman at increased risk for breast cancer (for instance, because you have a strong family history of breast cancer, a known gene mutation that increases breast cancer risk, such as in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or you have had DCIS or LCIS), there are some things you can do that might help lower your chances of developing breast cancer (or help find it early).
- Genetic counseling and testing for breast cancer risk (if it hasn’t been done already)
- Close observation to look for early signs of breast cancer
- Medicines to lower breast cancer risk
- Preventive (prophylactic) surgery
Your health care provider can help you determine your risk of breast cancer, as well as which, if any, of these options might be right for you.
Genetic counseling and testing
If there are reasons to think you might have inherited a gene change that increases your risk of breast cancer (such having as a strong family history of breast cancer, or a family member with a known gene mutation), you might want to talk to your doctor about genetic counseling to see if you should be tested.
If you decide to be tested and a gene change is found, this might affect your decision about using the options below to help lower your risk for breast cancer (or find it early).
For women at increased breast cancer risk who don’t want to take medicines or have surgery, some doctors might recommend close observation. This approach might include:
- More frequent doctor visits (such as every 6 to 12 months) for breast exams and ongoing risk assessment
- Starting breast cancer screening with yearly mammograms at an earlier age
- Possibly adding another screening test, such as breast MRI
While this approach doesn’t lower breast cancer risk, it might help find it early, when it’s likely to be easier to treat.
Medicines to lower breast cancer risk
Prescription medicines can be used to help lower breast cancer risk in certain women at increased risk of breast cancer.
Medicines such as tamoxifen and raloxifene block the action of estrogen in breast tissue. Tamoxifen might be an option even if you haven’t gone through menopause, while raloxifene is only used for women who have gone through menopause. Other drugs, called aromatase inhibitors, might also be an option for women past menopause. All of these medicines can also have side effects, so it’s important to understand the possible benefits and risks of taking one of them.
Preventive surgery for women with very high breast cancer risk
For the small fraction of women who have a very high risk for breast cancer, such as from a BRCA gene mutation, surgery to remove the breasts (prophylactic mastectomy) may be an option. Another option might be to remove the ovaries, which are the main source of estrogen in the body. While surgery can lower the risk of breast cancer, it can’t eliminate it completely, and it can have its own side effects.
Before deciding which, if any, of these options might be right for you, talk with your health care provider to understand your risk of breast cancer and how much any of these approaches might affect your risk.