Breast Cancer Prevention

Breast Cancer Prevention: Protective Options

There are a number of protective options that women may consider to reduce their risk of breast cancer. These include:
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medications
  • Prophylactic mastectomy
  • Prophylactic oophorectomy.
Lifestyle Changes
Diet is being studied as a risk factor for breast cancer. Studies show that in populations that consume a high-fat diet, women are more likely to die of breast cancer than women in populations that consume a low-fat diet. It is not known, however, if a diet low in fat will prevent the disease.
Studies have also shown that certain vitamins may decrease a woman's risk of breast cancer, especially premenopausal women who are at high risk. These research studies specifically showed that eating a diet rich in beta-carotene may decrease the risk of breast cancer. A diet rich in beta-carotene, folate, and vitamin A and vitamin C may reverse the higher risk of breast cancer linked to alcohol use.
Exercise, especially in young women, may decrease hormone levels and contribute to a decreased risk.
Certain medications may play a role in breast cancer prevention. One example is selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs. SERMs are drugs that act like estrogen on some tissues in the body, such as bones, but that block the effect of estrogen on other tissues.
Tamoxifen is a SERM that blocks the effect of estrogen on breast cancer cells. A large study has shown that tamoxifen lowers the risk of breast cancer in women who are at an elevated risk for the disease. However, tamoxifen may also increase the risk of endometrial cancer, stroke, and blood clots in veins and lungs. Women who are concerned that they may be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer should talk with their doctor about whether to take tamoxifen to prevent it. It is important to consider both the benefits and risks of taking tamoxifen.
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