6 ways to lower your breast cancer risk

6 ways to lower your breast cancer risk

“One-eighth of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime,” warns Donna Plecha, MD, a radiologist specializing in breast cancer at the Breen Breast Health Pavilion at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. “It is the leading cause of cancer death in women.”

Breast cancer can be hereditary – and you cannot change your genes – but there are many things you can control. Dr. Plecha offers her guidance for reducing your risk:

1. Cut the booze.

If you drink alcohol heavily, it is time to revisit and revise your lifestyle habits. “Excessive alcohol intake can increase your risk for breast cancer,” explains Dr. Plecha. “Lowering your alcohol intake brings your risk back to normal.” Women who have two or more alcoholic drinks a day have about 1.5 times the risk of developing breast cancer as women who do not drink, according to the American Cancer Society.

2. Set weekly exercise goals.

Dr. Plecha recommends exercising three or four times a week for 30 minutes at a time. Choose an activity you enjoy and schedule it into your calendar each week to hold yourself accountable. “Even a brisk walk can work,” she says. Also look for ways to make your day less sedentary and more active – like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking in a spot just a little farther from the grocery store or the office.

3. Get your daily dose of vitamin D.

“Vitamin D may decrease your risk for breast cancer,” says Dr. Plecha. She suggests a daily vitamin D supplement of 1,000 IU (international units). Very few foods contain vitamin D, but try incorporating salmon, mackerel, canned tuna, milk, yogurt and eggs into your diet for a natural helping.

4. Choose the right place to get screened.

“Screenings will not decrease your risk, of course,” Dr. Plecha points out, “but they can help you catch cancer earlier.” Start annual breast cancer screenings at age 40. Dr. Plecha strongly recommends choosing a provider that uses tomosynthesis – a 3-D technology that has a higher likelihood of identifying cancer than does traditional mammography.

5. Know your family history…

Family history is what it is – but knowing the details can help you be proactive in determining your risk. If a woman in your family has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you are considered high-risk. But Dr. Plecha explains that there are many things you can do in response, like getting screened with breast MRIs (magnetic resolution imaging) or even taking medications that can reduce your risk by as much as 50 percent.

6. …but do not assume no family history means no risk.

“Seventy-five percent of women who get diagnosed do not have a family history,” says Dr. Plecha. “Every woman is at risk.” So even if every woman in your family has been free of breast cancer, reducing your risk by making healthy changes and getting annual clinical breast exams should still be a top priority.

Schedule your mammogram today

At University Hospitals, we recommend women older than age 40 take control of their health and get annual mammograms. With the most advanced 3-D digital mammography, nationally-recognized experts and specialized risk management programs, we offer the most comprehensive options to prevent, detect and beat breast cancer. Call now to schedule your mammogram today: 1-866-UH4-CARE (1-866-844-2273).

Donna Plecha

DONNA PLECHA, MD
Radiologist, Breen Breast Health Pavilion at UH Case Medical Center
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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