22 May, 2023

While you cannot stop ageing, you can make lifestyle choices to keep your risk as low as possible. In the UK in 2016-2018, over 95% of new breast cancer cases were in women over 40. But what can you do to lower breast cancer risk? 

Everyone grows older, and as with many other diseases, your risk of breast cancer increases as you age. As time passes and cells undergo more divisions, damage to DNA which can lead to mutations, becomes more common, and there is an increased chance that mutations associated with breast cancer will arise.   

While we do not influence ageing, the good news is that we can do something about some breast cancer risk factors, mainly as we grow older. These include those associated with lifestyle, diet and environmental factors. Studies tell us that at least 30% of breast cancer cases are preventable through making changes to your lifestyle. Making those changes as we age can significantly impact our risk of developing the disease. 

As part of our Prevention Week (22 – 28 May 2023), we will show you how to reduce your risk of breast cancer if you’re over 40. Listed below is some insight into the preventable risk factors. 

Diet and weight

As we age, keeping a healthy weight can sometimes be easier said than done. You can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight and making better food choices. 

Any healthy diet should include a varied selection of foods that are as natural as possible and provide the right amount of energy and nutrients. 

Breast Cancer UK suggests: 

  • Eat your five a day 
  • Eat foods high in vitamin D, such as fatty fish, certain mushrooms, fortified plant yoghurts and milk 
  • Avoid processed meat (instead, eat more beans, lentils, nuts and other plant-based proteins) 
  • Increase your fibre intake (wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bread, oat bran) 
  • Watch your portion size. Eat as much as you need rather than as much as you want to help you keep a healthy weight
  • Make simple swaps to healthier options – such as replacing some or all of your mince with lentils in lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese
  • Try to eat foods high in fat, salt, and sugar less often and in small amounts
  • Eat organic where possible 

Physical activity 

Physical activity, including structured exercise, lowers levels of hormones, such as oestrogen, and by being physically active, you can reduce your risk of breast cancer by around 20%. 

Exercise also helps keep a healthy weight, significantly lowering your breast cancer risk if you are a woman who has reached menopause. 

Being active also reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence and mortality following a breast cancer diagnosis. One study found that as little as an hour of walking per week helps improve survival rates if you have breast cancer. With maximum benefits found in women who walked for 3-5 hours per week. Try incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. Short bursts of activity add up over a week! 

Breast Cancer UK suggests: 

  • Walk to work or take a short walk on your lunch break 
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift
  • Do squats while waiting for the kettle to boil
  • Get up from your desk every hour to walk around and stretch 

Alcohol 

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women. The more you drink, the more your breast cancer risk increases. Even very light drinking (one drink per week) increases the risk. 

In the UK, it is estimated that 8% (around 4,400) of female breast cancer cases are linked to alcohol consumption.  

Breast Cancer UK suggests:

  • To reduce your breast cancer risk as much as possible, we recommend not drinking alcohol at all
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, do not exceed UK government guidelines of no more than 14 units of alcohol per week
  • Try to have some alcohol-free days each week

Chemicals  

Many chemicals in everyday products and the environment may affect your risk of breast cancer. Importantly, this risk is due to the growing mix of chemicals you encounter throughout life that can build up in the body, not simply from using a particular chemical or single product. 

Some chemicals affect the system that manages hormones in your body – the endocrine system. They are called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). 

EDCs can be found in everyday products such as cosmetics, cleaning sprays, packaging, fabrics, and the food chain. Some of these chemicals can last a long time in the environment (for example, in bodies of water such as rivers and seas), meaning exposure can sometimes happen unintentionally. 

Checking ingredient lists can help you cut harmful products out of your lifestyle and reduce exposure. Check out Breast Cancer UK’s Chemicals of Concern List to help you when you’re out shopping. The YUKA app can also scan cosmetic/ beauty products to check ingredient lists and then provide suitable swaps for items that contain potentially harmful chemicals. 

Keep an eye out for our Prevention Week this week (22 – 28 May 2023), where the key focus is how you can reduce your risk of breast cancer in your 40s. 

To find out more about Breast Cancer Prevention Week, please click here.



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