Your genes aren’t something you can modify with lifestyle changes. What this means for people with a strong family history of breast cancer is that you can’t necessarily prevent the disease. What you can do is work to lower your risk. Scientists and doctors simply don’t know enough about the exact causes of breast cancer to conclusively say how to avoid it. Many of the steps you should take to lower your risk are a part of an overall healthy lifestyle, which will benefit you in more ways than just breast cancer prevention.
Evaluate your family history in a thorough way to uncover all family members who have had breast and other types of cancer. Take this information to your doctor so you can develop a regular screening schedule. You’re at a higher risk if you have a mother, daughter or sister with the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A good relationship with your health care provider can be one of your best weapons.
Talk to your doctor about genetic testing to predict your breast cancer risk. The test looks for mutations in genes associated with breast cancer and can help you determine if, when and what kind of cancer you may develop. If you already know you’re at an increased risk due to family history, you may not need this test to confirm what you already know. Others find it gives them peace of mind.
Reduce your exposure to toxins, especially cigarette smoke. Smoking increases your breast cancer risk and increases treatment complications. Avoid regular exposure to chemical fertilizers and pesticides by eating organic foods or growing your own foods. Avoid hormone replacement therapy at menopause if you’re at a high risk.
Have children if you’re interested in starting a family, and breastfeed them. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding helps lower your breast cancer risk. Breastfeeding reduces your risk at any age, while pregnancy offers the most benefit for young mothers, according to Breastcancer.org.
Consider preventative surgeries if your doctor diagnoses you as someone at a 80 percent or higher risk of getting breast cancer. Your doctor may remove all or some of your breast tissue, which decreases risk by 8 percent, according to Breastcancer.org. Removing only your ovaries can reduce your risk by as much as 50 percent because breast cancer is a hormonally sensitive disease. You may also opt to have both your breast tissue and ovaries removed.
Exercise regularly for three to five hours per week. Exercise helps lower your risk and helps get you to a healthy weight. Increased body fat increases breast cancer risk because fat cells produce estrogen, and increased exposure to estrogen is strongly linked with the disease. Eat foods that both lower cancer risk and support a healthy weight, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit your intake of meat and dairy products that contain hormones.