Reduce your risk

Lifestyle

Simple changes to your lifestyle can lower your risk of breast cancer

You can’t always change everything or make changes overnight. But trying to cut down, cut back, or tackle those parts of your lifestyle that increase your risk of breast cancer is a start.

Smoking What you can do

Smoking

Smoking means you inhale a number of cancer-causing chemicals, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known to cause breast cancer.

Your risk of breast cancer from smoking is higher if you started smoking early and you have not reached menopause.

What you can do

The best solution is to try to give up!

There is lots of support from your local NHS to give up smoking.

Visit the NHS website for help to quit smoking, or contact your local general practitioner.

Starting a family  What you can do

Starting a family 

Having children early (under 30) reduces your risk of breast cancer. Having more children, at a younger age, also reduces risk. Although the risk of breast cancer increases after having children, and peaks around 5 years after child-birth, the long-term protective effects of having children early outweigh this risk.

Breastfeeding your child gives you some protection against breast cancer, and the longer you do it the more you benefit – it is especially protective against developing hormone receptor-negative breast cancer.

What you can do

Planning when you have children is not always possible. But if you have children and are able to try to breastfeed them, doing so even for a short time is beneficial.
The contraceptive pill What you can do

The contraceptive pill

Most studies link combined oral contraceptives to a small increase in breast cancer risk.

A recent Danish study of nearly two million women found a 20% increase in the risk of breast cancer among current or recent users, compared to non-users.

The increased risk was mainly associated with contraceptives containing combined synthetic oestrogen and progesterone.

Your risk goes up the longer you use the combined pill and decreases when you stop taking it, with risk no longer apparent five years after use has stopped. Intrauterine devices (IUDs), injections, or other forms of combined hormonal contraception are also thought to increase risk.

It’s unclear whether hormonal contraceptives that contain progestin-only (synthetic progesterone) increase risk, as the results of studies vary.

What you can do

Discuss with your doctor what birth control alternatives are available.

The NHS website has information on types of contraception.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) What you can do

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

There is an increased breast cancer risk whilst taking combined HRT (synthetic oestrogen and progesterone), and this increases the longer you take it.

The risk lowers considerably when you stop taking it, although some excess risk persists for more than 10 years after stopping its use.

Most studies have found that oestrogen-only HRT is associated with a small increase, or no, change in breast cancer risk, although this type of therapy may not be suitable for all women.

What you can do

Discuss with your doctor what choices you have for alternative approaches to managing menopausal symptoms. The NHS website has further information on Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Light at night  What you can do

Light at night 

Night shift work and light at night exposure are thought to be risk factors for breast cancer, though not all studies support this finding.

Different assessments of what constitutes night shift work or different amounts of night light exposure may help explain the disparity in findings.

Night-time shift work and its correlation with increased breast cancer may be due to lower melatonin production (a hormone associated with circadian rhythm) which is associated with elevated breast cancer risk.

What you can do

If possible, try to avoid long periods of shift work and aim to get some good quality sleep in a dark room, preferably at night.

Vitamin D deficiency What you can do More information

Vitamin D deficiency

Most studies have found low levels of circulating vitamin D are linked to an increased breast cancer risk.

Studies have not demonstrated that taking vitamin D supplements reduces breast cancer risk, although taking these can restore serum vitamin D levels to a healthy state and are recommended for those unable to achieve sufficiency through sunshine and diet.

What you can do

Ensure you are getting a healthy amount of vitamin D. Some can be obtained from your diet (for example oily fish and egg yolks), but most is made by your body during exposure to sunlight. If you can not get sufficient vitamin D levels through sunshine and diet, vitamin D supplements are recommended to help restore vitamin D levels to a healthy level.

If you have any concerns ask your doctor to check your levels.

See the NHS for advice on vitamin D.

Use this online calculator to work out how much time you need in the sun to get any dose of vitamin D3.  It lets you enter all the factors that could influence your UVB exposure.

More information

Look at our key facts sheet for more information on vitamin D and breast cancer and tips on how to make sure you are getting enough vitamin D.

We also provide more detailed and scientific information in our science brief.

Chip in to help prevent breast cancer

Now more than ever, we need your help. Together we can help lower people’s risk of developing breast cancer. If you’ve found the information on our website helpful, then please consider making a donation today. Thank you.