Tips to Reduce your Risk of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women around the world. In the United States, about 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Although there is no absolute way to prevent breast cancer, there are things we can do now to reduce our risk.

“Things like family history, such as a first degree relative like your mother or sister, are factors that impact your risk of developing breast cancer that you cannot control,” says Dr. Matthew Cantor, an OB/GYN at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley. “But there are modifiable risk factors like weight control, diet, and getting regular exercise which can help reduce your risk.”

Maintain a healthy weight

“Fat cells make estrogen. So women who have more fat cells are making more estrogen, which is the main driver of breast cancer in most women,” Dr. Cantor says. He recommends maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to help keep your body mass index (BMI) lower, which may reduce the risk of developing cancer.

BMI is one method used to estimate the total amount of body fat. Women with a BMI of 18.5-24.9 are considered normal weight; 25-29 are considered overweight; those with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese. If you are not sure what your BMI is, ask your doctor at the next visit.

A healthy eating plan includes:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
  • Low saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars

Reduce your alcohol intake and quit smoking

Dr. Cantor also says limiting alcohol intake and not smoking are great preventive methods, as well as good habits for overall health. Research consistently shows that drinking alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, and liquor, increases a woman's risk of breast cancer. Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer.

Have children and breastfeed, if you can

Having children and breastfeeding are also preventive measures, Dr. Cantor says. Breastfeeding for at least a year is associated with decreased risks of breast cancer.

“We recommend women breastfeed ideally for a year after each pregnancy because studies have shown that women that did breastfeed for extended periods of time had fewer instances of breast cancer than those who didn’t,” he says. “This is likely because when you’re breastfeeding, your menstrual cycle or ovulatory process is suppressed so you have less estrogen.”

Discuss birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with your doctor

While birth control pills are used by many women for birth control, and hormone replacement therapy is used by many women to alleviate the symptoms of menopause and to boost female hormones that lower with age, evidence suggests that long-term use of birth control and HRT increases the risk of breast cancer. Dr. Cantor suggests you have a discussion with your doctor to understand your level of risk, and whether birth control or HRT is right for you.

Early detection

In addition to preventive measures, Dr. Cantor underscores that early detection is key at finding and stopping breast cancer before it metastasizes (or spreads) elsewhere in the body. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends women with average risk of breast cancer to begin biennial screening beginning at age 50. If you would like to ask your doctor about screening before age 50, simply make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the best plan for you.

Dr. Matthew Cantor is an OB/GYN practicing with NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley in Cortlandt Manor and Cold Spring. He is an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dr. Cantor practices general obstetrics and gynecology with clinical interests in comprehensive prenatal care, family planning services, and minimally invasive gynecologic surgery. He specializes in operative hysteroscopy, colposcopy and cervical conization, and laparoscopy. To make an appointment, call 914-736-6180.

At NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley, our doctors include primary care, OB/GYN, cardiology, orthopedics and more, and offer same-day, early, late and weekend appointments. To find a physician close to home, search here or or call 914-787-2200.