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Cancer

Lifestyle factors and the risk of breast cancer

Breast cancer is one of those diseases that can make women shiver. We’ve all heard the scary statistics and most of us know someone who has had the disease. Fortunately, we live in an age where medicine is getting better every year, and more and more breast cancers can be successfully treated.

However, it’s always better to avoid a disease than to treat it. Many researchers have studied the causes of breast cancer and the factors that contribute to it. They’ve discovered that certain lifestyle choices can lower your chances of getting breast cancer, at least slightly. And they’re all generally healthy choices to make anyway!

  • Drink less alcohol. A large study found that it didn’t matter whether women drank beer, red wine, white wine or hard liquor – all of them raised the risk of breast cancer to the same extent. Compared with non-drinkers, women who had three or more alcoholic drinks per day had a 38% higher risk.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking increases your risk of breast cancer both before and after menopause. Before menopause, even exposure to second-hand smoke can increase your risk.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity slightly increases your risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause. In young girls, being overweight makes early puberty more likely, which also increases their risk.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Research has shown that eating more fibre, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, may reduce the likelihood that breast cancer will come back in women who’ve had it.
  • Take vitamin D. Although more research is needed, one study found that vitamin D supplements reduced breast cancer risk.

Here are some factors that don’t affect your risk of breast cancer, despite rumours:

  • Having an abortion
  • Taking B vitamins
  • Breast implants
  • Aspartame

Other factors – ones you can’t control – also affect your risk, of course. A family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, starting your period at an early age, or having unusually dense breasts can all increase your chances of developing breast cancer sometime during your life. If any of these apply to you, remember that there are other factors that you can control, and they’re even more important in women at high risk.

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