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 tackling 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 the 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.

For help with quitting visit the NHS website, 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 risk of breast cancer among current or recent users, compared to non-users. 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 results of studies vary.

What you can do

Discuss with your doctor what birth control alternatives are available.

The NHS website has some further 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 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 deficiency  What you can do

Vitamin deficiency 

Low levels of vitamin D have been found in people with breast cancer.

It is unclear whether a low level of vitamin D increases risk, or whether breast cancer itself causes vitamin D levels to drop. Either way addressing this issue may be beneficial.

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 have any concerns ask your doctor to check your levels and, if they are low, try to get some sunlight on your skin, especially from March to September (see the NHS for advice). This will help your vitamin D levels remain at an adequate level throughout the winter.

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