There are many things you can do to lower your risk of health issues, whether it’s wearing sunblock to avoid skin cancer or staying away from ultra-processed foods to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart complications. But is it possible to take certain actions in the hopes of avoiding breast cancer? The bottom line is yes, it’s possible. But first, you should know some important information about breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women in the U.S., right behind skin cancer. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women but is far more common in women. Breast cancer develops when cells in the breast begin to grow abnormally while dividing rapidly and clumping together, forming lumps or masses. While the exact cause of breast cancer is not well understood, researchers have identified hormonal, lifestyle, and environmental factors that increase the risk of breast cancer.
“When we think about breast cancer, we try to break it down into things you can and can’t change,” says Megan Kruse, MD, an oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and assistant professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. “There are risk factors you’re born with and then there are others that you can actually do something about.”
Although these factors may increase your risk of breast cancer, they do not necessarily mean that you will develop breast cancer. And while you might not have any of the following risk factors, that also doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Below are the biggest breast cancer risk factors you should know.
18. Drinking Alcohol
According to the American Cancer Society, women who drink two or more drinks per day have a 20 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who only have one alcoholic beverage a day. Why alcohol? Alcohol can raise estrogen levels in the body, which increases your risk of cancer.
17. Being Overweight or Obese
“Obesity is a risk factor, particularly among postmenopausal women,” said Dr. Kruse. Before entering menopause, the ovaries are in charge of making the majority of estrogen; after menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen, so that means the hormone comes from fat tissue–and having too much fat can raise estrogen levels and increase your risk of breast cancer. Women who tend to be overweight are likely to suffer from high blood insulin levels, which are also linked to breast cancer. “The closer a woman is to her ideal body weight, the less risk she has of getting breast cancer,” mentioned Dr. Kruse.