Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK for women. Every year around 55,000 people receive a diagnosis. Although there are some risk factors for developing the disease that can’t be changed, such as your age or genetics, there are steps that all of us can take to reduce our risk of developing breast cancer.
Maintain a healthy weight
Gaining weight throughout your lifetime increases your risk of developing breast cancer after the menopause – the more weight you gain, the higher the risk. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, cutting down on sugar and processed food and increasing the amount of exercise you do can help keep your weight healthy. We recommend the clinically-proven 2-Day diet by our research dietician Dr Michelle Harvie and Professor Tony Howell, which is easy to follow and is an effective method for losing weight and keeping it off.
Evidence has proven that regular exercise reduces your risk of breast cancer – incorporating 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week will lower your chances of developing the disease. It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous, even a brisk 25-minute walk a day will do, but anything that makes you breathe harder and makes your heart beat faster will help reduce the chances of you developing breast cancer.
Cut down on drinking
We all know that excessive drinking isn’t good for us, but should we all be going teetotal? It has been shown that women who drink more alcohol do have higher rates of breast cancer than those who don’t drink at all, but the extra risk is lower if you stick within government guidelines of 1-2 units of alcohol a day.
Check your breasts
It may not directly reduce your risk, but if you are familiar with what’s normal for your breasts then you will be able to spot any changes, such as lumps, swelling or pain. The earlier that breast cancer is found, the higher the chance of beating it, so if you notice anything unusual visit your GP to get it checked. We have a helpful guide to show you how to check your breasts and what to keep an eye out for.
Breast screening is offered to all women in the UK between the ages of 50 and 70, so make sure you attend your appointment to maximise your chances of catching cancer at an earlier stage. It can also monitor changes in the breast from screen to screen, as well as measuring your breast density, as this has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
This may not be an option for all mothers, and is a personal choice, but breastfeeding can help protect against breast cancer, especially in younger mothers. The exact reasons behind this aren’t clear, but it has found to be most beneficial for women who breastfeed for over a year – the longer you breastfeed, the greater the reduction in risk.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may be at a higher risk of developing the disease. If this is the case, you may be offered certain medications, such as tamoxifen and raloxifene, through your family history clinic to reduce your chances of developing it.
To find out more about breast cancer, take a look at our resource centre.