Breast Cancer Prevention
Knowing the risk factors for breast cancer is the key to preventing it. Then you can eliminate or manage the risk factors that can be controlled. Breast cancer prevention strategies often begin with certain lifestyle changes; medications may also be recommended. While surgical procedures, such as a prophylactic mastectomy, may be part of a prevention strategy, women should undergo cancer risk assessment and counseling first.
Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented?Doctors cannot always explain why one person gets cancer and another does not. However, breast cancer research scientists have studied the general patterns of cancer in the population to learn what things around us and what things we do in our lives may increase our chance of developing cancer.
Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor; anything that decreases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a protective factor.
Breast cancer prevention means avoiding the risk factors and increasing the protective factors that can be controlled so that a person's chance of developing cancer decreases.
The first step in preventing breast cancer is knowing the risk factors. Some of the breast cancer risk factors can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, women who inherit specific genes, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, have a higher risk of developing breast cancer (see Breast Cancer Gene). High-risk genes are risk factors that cannot be changed.
Studies have identified the following risk factors for breast cancer:
- Personal history of breast cancer
- Family history
- Certain breast changes
- Gene changes
- Reproductive and menstrual history
- Radiation to the chest
- Breast density
- Taking DES (diethylstilbestrol -- a synthetic estrogen)
- Being overweight or obese (see BMI Calculator to check your weight status)
- Lack of physical activity
- Excessive use of alcohol.
(Click Breast Cancer Risk Factors for more information.)
The next step in preventing breast cancer is doing something about the risk factors you can control, such as your weight, physical activity level, and alcohol usage.