13 Healthy Living Strategies for Breast Cancer Prevention

Do you want to do everything you can to lower your risk of breast cancer? Smart thinking. The truth is, most people, whether born male or female, may prevent this disease by making simple lifestyle changes. You have more control over your health than you realize. Here, the New Hope Unlimited team outlined lifestyle habits that research shows can significantly reduce your breast cancer risk. And the best part? These habits are easy, everyday changes that won’t require a major lifestyle overhaul.


Know Your Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Being familiar with your risk factors can help you make effective lifestyle changes to lower your breast cancer risk. Below are some of the uncontrollable breast cancer risks. If you have one or more of the following, your risk is higher than others and you need a routine screening schedule to detect tumors early.

  • Genetic history is a big one: If you have direct blood relatives (mother, father, siblings, etc.) who have or had breast cancer, your risk is higher. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases may be hereditary, suggesting they result from gene mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2.
  • Age and menstrual or reproductive history matter, too: If you are over 60 years old (male or female), started menstruating before 12, went through menopause after 55, or never gave birth, your risk increases.
  • Having dense breasts: Women with dense breasts, which have more connective tissue as opposed to fatty tissue, are more likely to develop and discover breast cancer at an advanced stage. The reason is that dense breast tissue can make it difficult to recognize tumors on a mammogram.

If you have risk factors that you cannot control, making lifestyle modifications can reduce your breast cancer risk and help you live a long, healthy life. Every small step makes a difference, so do what you can and try not to overwhelm yourself. Focus on progress, not perfection.

Explore our complete guide to breast cancer causes and risk factors.


How to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

Do your body and future self a huge favor by adopting these breast-healthy lifestyle habits:


1. Watch the Scale

The breast cancer risk of an overweight or obese woman is much higher than that of a leaner woman. Dr. Peddi Parvin of the University of California explains that fat cells release substances like insulin and estrogen, which contribute to cancer development. Excess fat in your middle, to be precise, can fuel the growth of breast cancer cells in men and women.

Exercise metabolizes excess estrogen and equips your body with hormones that combat cancer growth. Dropping 4 to 20 pounds already lowers your breast cancer risk by 10 to 15 percent, and losing over 20 pounds further reduces your risk by 25% or more.

Focus on eating reasonable portion sizes and adopt more of the other anticancer habits below. Most of them go a long way toward reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.


2. Get Moving

To drop excess pounds, achieve a healthy weight, and reduce your breast cancer risk, aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise most days of your week. Any activity that gets your heart racing and makes you breathe harder counts, including:

  • Brisk walking, jogging, running
  • Bike riding
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics classes

Exercise lowers estrogen levels in the body, which, as mentioned, may stimulate breast cancer growth. Being active also helps you maintain a BMI-approved weight, which is key for preventing cancer and other chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. For instance, in a meta-analysis comprising 38 cohort studies, the most active women had a 12 to 21 percent lower breast cancer risk than generally sedentary women. In another study, the researchers found that women with a higher BMI were more prone to breast cancer and had lower survival rates.

Ultimately, the more you break a sweat, the lower your risk.


3. Set Boundaries for Your Alcohol Consumption

Thousands of studies have demonstrated that alcoholic beverages – be it beer, wine, or any type of liquor – increase a person’s risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol damages the DNA in cells and raises estrogen levels. Unlike non-drinkers, those who have three alcoholic drinks every seven days have a 15 percent higher risk of developing breast tumors. The World Health Organization (WHO) also lists alcohol as a “Class One Carcinogen,” which makes reduced alcohol consumption a golden rule for breast cancer prevention.

Moreover, yes, men get breast cancer, too. Excessive alcohol consumption increases estrogen and decreases testosterone levels. This hormonal imbalance can stimulate the cells in the male breast tissue to multiply at an accelerated pace, which can result in breast cancer development.

The best option is to avoid intoxicating beverages altogether. If that’s not possible at the moment, limit yourself to no more than one drink per day. A drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (whiskey, rum, brandy, or arrack). Ensure to eat before and during drinking to help slow alcohol absorption.

For about 29.5 million people aged 12 and up, alcohol is a coping mechanism or social crutch. If you are one of the millions struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD) or dependency, look for new outlets to replace that habit. You can also call drugabuse.com, a subsidiary of the American Addiction Centers, at 406-282-0277 to understand your treatment options. Be kind to yourself along the way, and know that you’re making a choice with life-long benefits.


4. Eat Healthy and Organic

Fill your plate with a variety of these nutritious eats:


Organic Goods

Organic produce is free from pesticides, hormones, and genetic modification. Pesticides used in conventional farms may act as endocrine disruptors, which modify the normal functions of the endocrine system and potentially cause diseases like cancer. Meat, eggs, and dairy products from hormone-free, grass-fed animals are also better options, as they have higher concentrations of omega-3 fats and fat-soluble vitamins A and E. However, if you have a personal or family history of ER+ breast cancer, you may want to lower your leucine levels.


Good Fats

Not all fats are bad for you. Focus on adding polyunsaturated fats like omega-3s in fatty fish, flax and chia seeds, and monounsaturated fats like olive oil. Nuts, seeds, and avocados are additional sources of healthy fats.


High in Fiber

Every 10 grams of fiber added to your diet daily can prevent breast cancer by 5 percent. Here are some satisfying high-fiber foods to try:

  • Apples (2.4 grams)
  • Bananas (2.6 grams)
  • Carrots (2.8 grams)
  • Brussels sprouts (3.8 grams)
  • Artichoke (5.4 grams)
  • Avocado (6.7 grams)
  • Kidney beans (7.4 grams)
  • Split peas (8.3 grams)
  • Oats (10.1 grams)
  • Lentils (10.7 grams)
  • Dark chocolate (10.9 grams)
  • Almonds (13.3 grams)
  • Chia seeds (34.4 grams)

Further reading: Fruits, Vegetables, and Cancer: Nutrients That Reduce Risk of Tumor Growth and How a Plant-Based Diet Helps Fight Cancer.


5. Cut Back on Processed and Red Meat

No matter how delicious, processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, ham, and corned beef contain nitrites, which are preservatives that form carcinogenic (cancerous) compounds called nitrosamines. These meats are also high in saturated fats and sodium. Try plant-based sources of protein instead, like veggie burgers, veggie dogs, bean burgers, and meat alternatives such as tofu.

As for red meats like beef, pork, and lamb, they contain compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which can elevate cancer risks when meat is cooked at high temperatures. Try replacing one or two of your weekly red meat meals with fish, poultry, beans, or legumes. When you do eat them, choose the leanest selections and cook at lower temperatures to reduce HCA formation.


6. Scale Back on Sugar

Added sugar is empty calories with no nutritional benefit. Consuming too much of it also causes inflammation and excess fat storage in the liver and belly — all of which increase cancer risk.

Consuming less sugar and more whole foods like fruits and veggies can have tremendous health advantages and help you avoid diseases.


Reduce Sugary Drinks

Sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, and sweetened coffees and teas are full of sugar. Instead, drink water, unsweetened beverages, or moderate amounts of 100% fruit juice.


Limit Sweets and Desserts

Enjoy ice cream, cake, cookies, candies, and other sweets occasionally and in moderation. Have a small portion and share with others. You can also satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way with fruit, yogurt, or a piece of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has antioxidants and significantly less sugar than milk chocolate.

What’s the connection between sugar and cancer? Find out now.


7. Choose Fresh Air: Kick the Smoking Habit

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and to lower your risk of breast cancer and over a dozen other health issues. Smoking is a direct cause of breast cancer. When you smoke, chemicals like benzene and polonium-210 enter your bloodstream and cause cell damage that can lead to cancer. In fact, people who have been smoking for over a decade have a 10 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to who have never smoked a cigarette. Luckily, your risk of breast cancer will drop as soon as you quit. Here is an Overview of How the Body Recovers After Quitting Smoking.

Remember, smoking kills the people around you, too, including your loved ones. Ask a medical professional about resources to help you quit, including nicotine replacement like gum or patches, as well as prescription medication. Support groups can also help with encouragement, accountability, and dealing with cravings or withdrawal symptoms.

Don’t give up if you slip up during your quitting journey. Just get back on track and be proud of your progress. You will add years to your life, breathe easier, save money, protect your precious loved ones, and gain peace of mind.

Need more motivation? Read these stories from former smokers.


8. Stress Less

Managing your stress levels is critical to overall health and breast cancer prevention. Chronic stress impacts your immune system, hormone levels, and mental health, so prioritize stress relief in your daily routine.

Here are some effective stress relief strategies you can try:

The bottom line is to dedicate time to yourself and the things that bring you joy each and every day. Your mind and body will thank you.

Evidence on stress-breast cancer connection.


9. Stop Saying “Sleep Is for the Weak”

Lack of quality sleep may be a risk factor for breast cancer. It disrupts hormones like melatonin, impairs the immune system, and leads to weight gain, all of which raise breast cancer risk.

Seven hours of sleep every night should be your minimum goal to keep a balanced and healthy lifestyle. If you can sleep for nine hours, that’s even better.

You can wire yourself to fall asleep faster and longer through the following:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends, to establish your body’s circadian rhythm and optimize sleep.
  • Create a nighttime routine to prepare your mind and body for sleep. For example, take a warm bath, apply skincare products, switch on the AC, practice meditation, or journal.
  • Put away your electronics an hour before bed to stimulate your body’s natural melatonin production and make you sleepy.
  • Avoid bright lights and skip caffeine, all beverages, exercise, and heavy meals too close to bedtime.


10. Check Your Cosmetics for Harmful Chemicals

Your makeup and skincare may contain parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butyl-), a common preservative that mimics estrogen and may promote tumor growth. Triclosan, an antimicrobial agent in soaps, deodorants, and mouthwashes, can also disrupt hormones.

In addition, avoid cosmetics with “fragrance” or “perfume” listed, as these terms hide ingredients like phthalates, which can be carcinogenic. Instead opt for “unscented” or “fragrance-free” products.


Additional resources:

Minimizing your contact with harmful chemicals in self-care products decreases health risks and lets you take pride in choosing what goes on and into your body. Opting for a clean beauty routine can have considerable benefits for long-term health and disease prevention.


11. Consider Your Birth Control

When it comes to birth control, some options may increase breast cancer risk, ranging from 8 to 24 percent.

Birth control pills, patches, rings, and IUDs release estrogen and progestin, which some studies link to an elevated breast cancer risk. The risk seems highest among women currently taking these methods or recently stopped. However, breast cancer risk reduces over time once you stop using hormonal birth control.

  • Consider non-hormonal birth control methods such as condoms, diaphragms, or natural family planning.
  • If using hormonal contraceptives, choose the lowest hormone doses and formulations. Newer progestin-only or progesterone-releasing IUDs may have less effect on breast cancer risk.
  • Take regular breaks from hormonal birth control when possible to allow hormone levels to return to normal, which may decrease risk.

On the other hand, hormonal forms of contraception can protect women against other types of tumors. Your doctor can weigh the reliability, health benefits, and risks of different birth control methods and decide what’s best for you.


12. Limit Menopausal Hormone Therapy

If you’re approaching or going through menopause, talk to your doctor about menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). Although it offers benefits for bothersome menopause symptoms like hot flashes, a 2019 meta-analysis found that using MHT for at least five years, beginning at age 50, would raise the likelihood of breast cancer at ages 50 to 69. The increase is approximately one in 50 users of estrogen with daily progestogen, one in 70 users of estrogen with intermittent progestogen, and one in 200 for estrogen-only. If the therapy extends to 10 years, the associated risks would be twice as high.

To diminish your cancer risk, limit MHT use, avoid it altogether, or try natural remedies. Herbal supplements like evening primrose oil and black cohosh may reduce menopause symptoms without the breast cancer risks of MHT. However, herbal supplements are not FDA-regulated, so talk to your doctor before introducing anything new to your body.


13. Watch Out for Changes in Your Breasts

Detecting breast cancer early is key to beating it. Ensure to do monthly breast self-exams and see a healthcare expert if you notice changes in your breasts, including: 

  • A lump, thickening, or hard knot in the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling or shrinking of your breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the breast skin
  • Scaliness or redness of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • A nipple that’s inverted or turning inward
  • Any breast pain that does not go away

And of course, get screened for breast cancer starting at 40 or 50 depending on your personal risk factors. If cancer strikes, contact New Hope Unlimited to book a consultation and discuss alternative treatment options for breast cancer in women and men.


Takeaway: You Have More Control Than You Know

You have the power to make healthy lifestyle changes and reduce your breast cancer risk. Focus on what you can control, and remember that every small improvement you make will have a big influence on your long-term health and wellness. Don’t get overwhelmed by the recommendations – just pick a few habits to start with and build more from there. Commit to being your healthiest self and make choices today for a brighter, cancer-free future.

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