October is breast cancer awareness month and a good time for all of us to consider risk factors for developing breast cancer. Most are familiar with the risk factors related to family and certain gene mutations (BRCA), but it’s important to also consider lifestyle-related risk factors. These are important because these are the risk factors you can do something about. We call these risk factors, modifiable. They differ from the non-modifiable risk factors like age and genetics.

Alcohol intake can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases based on the amount one consumes. Women who have 1 drink per day have a slightly higher risk than women who do not drink, and those that have 2-3 drinks per day have about a 20% higher risk than non-drinkers.

Excess weight after menopause increases the risk of developing breast cancer. This is because fat tissue is where most of a woman’s post-menopausal estrogen is created. Having too many causes increased estrogen levels. Excess weight increases the risk of other types of cancers, as well.

Physical activity has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer. So, physical inactivity can increase risk. It isn’t clear how much is needed, however, most studies have shown that even two hours a week might decrease risk.

Diet can play a role in developing breast cancer. A healthy diet of mostly vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and less processed meats can help reduce the risk of breast cancer. A healthy diet can also help you stay at a healthy weight, which also reduces risk. Women who have children after age 30 or women who don’t have children at all have a slightly higher breast cancer risk.

Women who breastfeed, particularly for 1.5 – 2 years may have slightly lower rates of breast cancer.
Some types of hormonal birth control might increase risk. However, after discontinuing use risk returns to baseline. It is important to note that some types of hormonal contraception are protective against ovarian and endometrial cancers. Some types of hormone replacement therapy may increase risk, as well.
So, as you can see, there are many risks factors related to lifestyle that can be changed or improved upon for women to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.

~Kelli Porter, WHNP-BC, NCMP

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