11 Healthy Ways to Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer

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There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, but the things you do — or don't — can dramatically reduce the risk of becoming a victim. Research across several fields indicates that women (and men) have at least some degree of control over their chances of facing the disease, based on lifestyle choices.

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An analysis of nearly 50 studies shows a connection between breastfeeding and reduced breast cancer rates, according to The Susan G. Komen Foundation. Women, especially premenopausal women, are significantly less likely to get breast cancer after having breastfed for one year than those who did not. After two years, the benefit doubles. Women who breastfed for more than two years over their lifetime get the most benefit.

woman breaking down cigarette to pieces
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The link between smoking and increased rates of breast cancer, particularly in younger, premenopausal women, includes secondhand smoke, BreastCancer.org says. Smoking can also create serious complications with common breast cancer treatments such as radiation and hormone therapy.

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Several studies show a definitive link between regular physical activity and lower breast cancer rates. In fact, active women — particularly postmenopausal — who exercise regularly might enjoy a 10 percent to 20 percent lower risk than women who are sedentary.

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Breast cancer is just one of many cancers that pose a greater risk to obese people, according to the National Cancer Institute. This is especially true with high-weight postmenopausal women, who suffer a 20 percent to 40 percent increase in breast cancer rates.

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The combination of estrogen plus progestin as menopausal hormone therapy increases the risk of breast cancer, according to the National Women's Health Network. The studies show dramatically lower rates of breast cancer as the therapy is used less.

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A single alcoholic drink per day increases the risk of breast cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. The report, released with the World Cancer Research Fund, found that risk increased for women before and after menopause, even when the drink was smaller than a normal serving size.

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There might be a link between pollution and breast cancer, says a study in the journal Breast Cancer Research. Women in polluted urban areas are more likely to have higher breast density, which makes them more prone to breast cancer.

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Children and young women exposed to significant radiation early in life, especially in the chest, suffer rates of breast cancer three to seven times higher than those who didn't, according to Komen. These exposures are often for Hodgkin's disease treatment, which, Komen points out, is still beneficial even though it increases the risk of later-life breast cancer.

middle-aged woman eating yoghurt in kitchen
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A healthy diet is likely to reduce the risk of first-time and recurring breast cancer, BreastCancer.org advises. Although no foods or supplements are linked directly to the cancer, a low-fat, mostly plant-based diet has shown to reduce risk.

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Birth control pills with high doses of estrogen can increase the risk for breast cancer in some women, the National Cancer Institute says.

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"Sitting is the new smoking" is now a cliché, but research from the American Cancer Society reveals that women who spend six or more hours day sitting each day are 10 percent more likely to get a particularly invasive kind of breast cancer than women who sit for three hours or less.

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