Lowering your risk of breast cancer

December 2012

Mother comforting her daughter

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in the United States. In 2008 (the last recent numbers available), there were 210,200 new cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Cancer Society estimates you have a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer during your lifetime.

Researchers still don’t know what causes healthy cells in a woman’s breast to form tumors. But they do know that certain risk factors have been linked to the disease. Some, like aging, are beyond your control. But there are certain lifestyle habits that up your risk that you can do something about.

Risk factors you can’t control

The ACS has identified several risk factors you can’t really change. Among them:
  • Your age: About two thirds of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are 55 years or older
  • Your gender: Although men get breast cancer, less than 1% do.
  • Your genes: About 5 - 10% of breast cancers can be linked to genetic mutations, especially in the BRAC1 and BRAC2 genes.
  • Your family history: You're more likely to get breast cancer if a close female relative — your mother or your sister, — has had it.
  • Your periods: If you started menstruating before you were 12 or had your last period after 55, your breast cancer risk is slightly higher. The longer you have your period, the longer you’re exposed to the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Researchers think that long-time exposure to these hormones play a part in boosting your breast cancer risk.

Risk factors you can control

  • Taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause: If you’re using the combined estrogen-progesterone based therapy, your risk may be higher than just the estrogen-based one.
  • Not having kids — or having them later in life: Getting pregnant before age 30 — and having more than one child — has been shown to lower your breast cancer risk.
  • Not breastfeeding: Some studies have shown that if you breastfeed longer than one year, you could lower your risk.
  • Unhealthy habits: A lack of exercise can up your chances of getting breast cancer. Other bad habits: Being overweight and drinking, especially if you drink more than one alcoholic beverage a day.

Preventing breast cancer

Prevent breast cancer by doing everything you can to make healthier choices.

Don’t worry about the factors you can’t change. Instead, take control by doing everything you can to make healthier choices in your life. Here are a few examples of the changes you can put in practice right away:

Embrace exercise and a healthier diet. Looking to jumpstart a fitness routine? There’s an app for that — and some won’t cost you a dime. Try the Nike Training Camp (free for both Android and iPhones), which lets you customize your fitness routine (and level). There are also calorie-counting and healthy menu-planning apps. Or sign up for HumanaVitality, and get rewarded for the healthy choices you make.

If you’re going through menopause, talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy. Learn the pros and cons of each type, and see which one is right for you. Then stay on HRT for a short time — think months, not years — to relieve the worst symptoms. Sometimes changes in diet and exercise can minimize menopausal symptoms — another good reason to change your eating and workout habits.

Limit your drinking. Women who drink one alcoholic beverage a day increase their risk a bit. But those who drink two or more a day raise that rate by one-and-a-half times, according to the ACS. Drink in moderation, and whatever you do, don’t binge.

If you’re pregnant, try to breastfeed as long as possible. Nursing is not only good for your health — it has a ton of benefits for your baby, too.

Benefits of early and regular colorectal cancer screenings for people over the age 50

Stay one step ahead with regular screenings

Find out why early and regular tests for colorectal cancer can make all the difference.

Read about colorectal cancer screenings
Learn tips on how to exercise at your work desk to get in to shape and stay healthy

Work out while you’re at work

Stuck at work all day? You can still get in shape and stay healthy.

Read about exercising at your desk
How to achieve health goals with the help of personalized plans, incentive programs and support

Live better with a personalized plan

Reach personal health goals. Earn rewards. And achieve better health with HumanaVitality®.

Find out more about HumanaVitality