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What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?

What is breast cancer?

As the name suggests, Breast Cancer begins as a form of tumour in the breast. Later it can spread in the surrounding area or travel to other parts of the body. Breast cancer mostly affects women, however, can rarely affect men too.

Who gets breast cancer?

Certain genetic, environmental, and personal factors may contribute to the development of breast cancer. 

An overweight woman with strong family history, who has had a long menstrual history [early periods (before 12 years) /late menopause (after 55 years)], & had childbirth after 30 years of age is at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

There are some factors which cannot be changed, like:

  • Increasing age
  • Family history of cancer
  • Genetic mutations
  • Dense breast tissue
  • History of cancer
  • Exposure to radiation

While few factors can be very much controlled, like

  • Smoking and alcohol consumption
  • Control weight
  • Choosing not to breastfeed or less breastfeeding
  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy

What can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Research shows that following a healthy lifestyle and remaining aware of your body can prevent breast cancer. Some tips to do so:

  • Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. The general recommendation — based on research on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk — is to limit yourself to no more than one drink a day, as even small amounts increase risk. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If your weight is healthy, work to maintain that weight. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor about healthy strategies to accomplish this. Reduce the number of calories you eat each day and slowly increase the amount of exercise. Prefer healthy, fresh cooked meals to packed, refrigerated food.
  • Be physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which helps prevent breast cancer. Most healthy adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
  • Breast-feed. Nowadays many women choose not to breastfeed which increases the risk of cancer. Hence, Breast-feeding might play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy. Combination hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of hormone therapy. You might be able to manage your symptoms with non hormonal therapies and medications. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose that works for you and continue to have your doctor monitor the length of time you’re taking hormones.

There’s some evidence that hormonal contraception, which includes birth control pills and IUDs that release hormones, increases the risk of breast cancer. But the risk is considered very small, and it decreases after you stop using hormonal contraceptives.

A recent study that showed an association between hormonal contraceptive use and breast cancer determined one additional breast cancer could be expected for every 7,690 women who use hormonal contraception for at least one year.

Discuss your contraceptive options with your doctor. Also consider the benefits of hormonal contraception, such as controlling menstrual bleeding, preventing an unwanted pregnancy, and reducing the risk of other cancers, including endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer.

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 of 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 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 these approaches might affect your risk.

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