Ways 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 invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Although there is no absolute way to prevent breast cancer, there are many ways to reduce our breast cancer risk.

“There are several factors that impacts a person’s risk for breast cancer including family and personal history, which can’t be changed,” says Dr. Michelle Azu, a breast surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester. “But other factors like obesity and other lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk.”

Maintain a healthy weight

“We recommend healthy living — eating right and exercising regularly — to keep your body mass index (BMI) down. Extra body mass means the body makes more estrogen, which is the main driver of breast cancer in most women,” Dr. Azu says.

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. Azu 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. Azu says. Breastfeeding for at least a year is associated with decreased risks of breast cancer.

“This is likely because when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, your menstrual cycle or ovulatory process is interrupted, which reduces the level of estrogen in your body,” she says.

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

While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is used by many women to alleviate symptoms of menopause and to boost female hormones that lower with age, evidence suggests that long-term use of HRT increases the risk of breast cancer.

“For most women, breast cancer is linked to hormones. HRT and birth control use may increase hormones,” Dr. Azu says. She suggests that women understand their level of risk associated with HRT and taking birth control. “Women need to have a healthy conversation with their provider to determine if it is right for them,” says Azu.

Early detection

In addition to preventive measures, Dr. Azu 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. Michelle C. Azu is a breast surgeon practicing with NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester in Bronxville. She is an assistant professor of surgery at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She is also the director of breast surgical services at NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester (formerly Lawrence Hospital). Dr. Azu is passionate about women’s health. As a dedicated breast surgeon, Dr. Azu forms strong relationships with her patients and helps them to have a thorough understanding their diagnosis and treatment options. To make an appointment, call 914-787-3157

At NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester, 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.