Breast Cancer Prevention

Institutes & Services > Women's Health Services > Breast Care > Breast Cancer > Breast Cancer Prevention

Scientists are still grappling with whether breast cancer can be stopped before it ever occurs in the body. We do know that some things can help protect against breast cancer, including:

Regular aerobic exercise

Research has shown that women who exercised frequently and with vigor were only half as likely to get breast cancer. (These results were in studies with mostly younger, pre-menopausal women.)

Exercise can also help those who have breast cancer deal with side effects of treatment and recover more quickly after surgery. Regular exercise can also positively affect survival.

Diet and nutrition

Fats in the diet may raise the risk of developing breast cancer, while vegetables, fruits and grains may help lower the risk. Such results have been found in other countries, but so far no lessening of breast cancer risk has been found as a result of eating a low-fat diet.

Drinking alcohol has been associated with a rise in the risk for breast cancer. Studies have shown that women who consume 2 1/3 to 4 ½ bottles of beer a day, 2 ½ to more than 5 ½ glasses of wine daily or 2 to 4 shots a liquor per day have an increased incidence of breast cancer. It is recommended, therefore, that women restrict their intake of alcohol.

Diet by itself is not enough, however, to outweigh other breast cancer risk factors. Eat a healthy diet AND practice such prevention approaches as getting a regular mammogram.

The wisest way is to find cancers as early as possible and get treatment for them. Review with your doctor these approaches to preventing cancer or detecting it early:

  • Each year, get a thorough checkup and a screening mammogram beginning at age 40 (earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer.) Discuss with your doctor when to begin.
  • Review the use of birth control pills with your doctor.
  • As you near menopause, talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Research suggests that HRT, particularly when estrogen and progestin are combined, can raise breast cancer risk.
  • If you are at high risk for getting breast cancer, speak with your doctor about the risks of specific medications, such as tamoxifen and raloxifene, which show promise in reducing breast cancer risk.

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