There are certain factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. It is important for you to work with your doctor to determine your personal risk for breast cancer and schedule routine breast cancer screening tests to manage its development.
While there are risk factors that are not within your control – ageing and family history, for example – there are those related to personal behaviours and lifestyle that can be modified. We explore 4 common risk factors you can change to lower your risk of developing breast cancer in the future.
1. Not being physically active
There is growing evidence that shows regular physical activity lowers breast cancer risk, especially in women past menopause. A couple of hours a week might be helpful, but more can be beneficial as well. Get a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity, or at least 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity every week, ideally throughout the whole week. You can increase the amount and intensity gradually over time.
Moderate-intensity aerobic activities include brisk walking, dancing or gardening, which will get your heart rate up and improve cardiorespiratory fitness. For vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, they are running, hiking uphill, jumping rope and aerobic dancing, which will promote higher calorie burn, improve heart health and boost your metabolism. Exercising also limits the levels of insulin growth factor which can affect the way breast cells grow.
2. Being at an unhealthy weight
After menopause, the estrogen produced in a woman’s body comes from fat tissues, which can raise the hormones levels and increase your chance of getting breast cancer. Women who are overweight also tend to have higher blood insulin levels, which have been linked to certain cancers like breast cancer.
It is recommended to stay at a healthy weight, regardless if you are reaching menopause or not, and avoid gaining excess weight by balancing your food intake with physical activity. Follow a nutritious diet rich in foods like fatty fish, leafy greens, beans, berries and citrus fruits. Be sure to also cut out processed meats, fried food, and sugary beverages.
3. Drinking alcohol
The risk of breast cancer increases with the amount of alcohol you consume. This is because alcohol increases your estrogen levels and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Those who have three alcoholic drinks weekly may have a 15% increase of breast cancer risk compared to women who don’t drink at all. Whether it’s wine, beer or hard liquor, it is best to limit your alcohol intake or stop drinking completely.
4. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
When the ovaries stopped producing estrogen after menopause, women often experience menopausal systems like mood changes and hot flashes. HRT helps to boost the levels of female sex hormones in the body to relieve the symptoms. Though, the risk of breast cancer increases when using combined HRT, which has estrogen and progesterone hormones, especially if taken for more than 5 years.
While it is not fully understood the link between HRT and breast cancer, research indicates that higher levels of estrogen help some breast cancers to grow. With that said, the balance of risks and benefits differ for each woman. Talk to your doctor about what option might be best for you.
The chances of developing breast cancer increase with age. Thus, it is good to make some lifestyle changes which you still have control over, such as maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active, to lower your risk.
At the same time, it is also recommended to have regular breast cancer screening tests for early detection so you have more treatment options to fight it. Our cancer treatment centre is a one-stop service for your cancer screenings, consultations, appointments and treatments with experienced medical specialists, ensuring you receive convenient and comprehensive care.