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Lifestyle-related Breast Cancer Risk Factors

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Lifestyle-related Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Lifestyle-related Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Breast Cancer has many different risk factors that are related to lifestyle. These risk factors include, diet, physical activity, taking certain medications, and even the decision to conceive. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, we want to share some of the risk factors that can lead to breast cancer.

Drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Women who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a small (about 7% to 10%) increase in risk compared to those who don't drink, while women who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk. Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of other types of cancer, too. It is best not to drink alcohol, or to keep consumption low. Women who do drink should have no more than 1drink a day.

Being overweight or obese

Being overweight or obese after menopause increases breast cancer risk. Before menopause, a woman's ovaries make most of her estrogen, and fat tissue makes only a small portion of total estrogen. After menopause, when the ovaries stop making estrogen, most estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can raise estrogen levels and increase the chances of getting breast cancer. Women who are overweight also tend to have higher blood insulin levels. Higher insulin levels have been linked to some cancers, including breast cancer.

Not being physically active

Evidence is growing that regular physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, especially in women who have already experienced menopause. The main question is, how much activity is needed? Some studies have found that even as little as a couple of hours a week might be helpful, although more seems to be better. Exactly how physical activity might reduce breast cancer risk isn’t clear, but it may be due to its effects on body weight, inflammation, and hormone levels. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these). Getting to or going over the upper limit of 300 minutes is ideal.

Not having children

Women who have not had children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer overall. Having many pregnancies and becoming pregnant at a young age reduces breast cancer risk. Still, the effect of pregnancy on breast cancer risk is complex. For example, the risk of breast cancer is higher for about the first decade after having a child. The risk then becomes lower over time.

Not breastfeeding

Most studies suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if it continues for a year or more. However, this has been hard to study, especially in countries like the United States where breastfeeding for this long is uncommon. A possible explanation for this effect is that breastfeeding reduces a woman’s total number of lifetime menstrual cycles (the same as starting menstrual periods at a later age or going through early menopause).

Birth control

Some birth control methods use hormones, which might increase breast cancer risk. Most studies have found that women using oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. Once the pills are stopped, this risk decreases back to normal within about 10 years. Other studies have suggested that getting long-acting progesterone shots (such as Depo-Provera) every 3 months for birth control could increase breast cancer risk, but not all studies have found this. Birth control implants such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), skin patches, and vaginal rings also use hormones, which in theory could fuel breast cancer growth. Some studies have suggested a link between use of hormone-releasing IUDs and breast cancer risk, but few studies have looked at the use of birth control implants, patches, and rings and breast cancer risk.

Women who are 40 or older should get a mammogram to test for breast cancer once a year. If symptoms appear at any time such as change in size, lumps, rash, or masses on breasts; then you should see your primary care provider to get a referral for a diagnostic mammogram to screen for breast cancer. Symptoms could appear at any age, so if you are experiencing an unexplained change in your breasts, a mammogram is recommended.

The CCH Radiology department is scheduling routine mammograms every Saturday in October from 8 am to 1 pm, to help more women receive mammograms. Both 2-D and 3-D Digital Mammography is provided in Radiology's women's services area in Campbell County Memorial Hospital. Amenities include a private waiting area, relaxing décor, mood lighting, background music, heated spa robes and fresh infused water. To schedule an appointment, please call 307-688-1600.


American Cancer Society. “Lifestyle-Related Breast Cancer Risk Factors.”, American Cancer Society, 2015,

  • Category: Cancer Treatment