Reduce your risk of breast cancer by following these eight steps according to experts

doctor wear white coat with pink ribbon explaining breast self examination
In the UK there are around 56,400 women and 390 men diagnosed with breast cancer each year -Credit:Getty

Health experts have listed eight ways you could reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Professionals at Cancer Research UK have shared several things people can do that may help lessen their likelihood.

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the breast grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. These cells eventually form a growth which is diagnosed as a tumour.

Breast cancer typically starts in the cells that line the milk ducts. For females, it is the most common cancer in the UK. Although it mainly affects women, men can get it too.

Symptoms of breast cancer can include a new lump or thickening in your breast or armpit. There may also be a change in size, shape or feel of your breast.

Other warning signs include skin changes in the breast such as puckering, dimpling, a rash or redness of the skin. As well as fluid leaking from the nipple in a woman who isn’t pregnant or breastfeeding and changes in the position of the nipple.

As for reducing your risk of breast cancer, the charity says there are some of the things that can help to reduce you risk. these include keeping a healthy weight and diet, drinking low amounts of alcohol, being physically active, breastfeeding, taking medicines such as aspirin or anti inflammatory drugs, having children and considering surgery or hormone treatment if you are at high risk.

1. Weight, diet and alcohol

Research shows that keeping a healthy weight reduces the risk of 13 different types of cancer including breast cancer. Ways to keep a healthy weight include being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Research also shows that cutting down the amount of alcohol you drink lowers your risk of developing breast cancer. There is no safe level of alcohol, so the more you cut down the more you can reduce your risk.

2. Does being physically active reduce your risk of breast cancer?

Being physically active can reduce your risk of breast cancer as it can help you to keep a healthy weight. But it can also prevent breast cancer in ways not related to weight.

Activity can include anything that makes you a bit warmer and slightly out of breath and your heart beating faster. Here are some examples:

  • having a physically active job

  • recreational exercise, such as walking, cycling or playing sport

  • chores such as ironing, gardening and cleaning

The reduced risk is possibly because exercise lowers levels of insulin, hormones and growth factors in the body.

3. Can breastfeeding reduce the risk of breast cancer?

Breastfeeding lowers the risk of developing breast cancer, particularly if you have your children when you are younger. The longer you breastfeed the more the risk is reduced.

It is not completely clear why this is. But the reduced risk might be because the ovaries don't produce eggs so often during breastfeeding. Or it might be because breastfeeding changes the cells in the breast so they might be more resistant to changes that lead to cancer.

4. Aspirin and anti inflammatory drugs

Research has shown that women who regularly take aspirin or other non steroidal anti inflammatory medicines have a slightly lower risk of developing breast cancer. There are trials in progress that will give us more information in the future.

Remember that aspirin can irritate the lining of your stomach and cause bleeding. So you should talk to your GP before starting to take it regularly. You shouldn't take these medicines if you have any history of stomach ulcers.

5. Treatments for those at high risk of breast cancer

Some people who have family members with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing it compared to the general population. There are medicines and surgical treatments that can help to reduce the risk of breast cancer for those at a higher risk.

6. Medicines for women at moderate or higher risk of breast cancer

Doctors may offer medicines to some moderate and high risk women to reduce the risk of breast cancer. These are:

  • tamoxifen for 5 years if you are pre menopausal

  • anastrozole for 5 years if you are post menopausal

  • raloxifene or tamoxifen for 5 years if you are post menopausal and you can’t take anastrozole

All these medicines have side effects and are not suitable for everyone. Speak to your doctor who can tell you whether these are suitable for you. You do not need to take this medication if you have had surgery to reduce your risk of breast cancer.

7. Surgery for high risk breast cancer

Surgery to remove both breasts may be a possible option for women at very high risk. This is known as a bilateral risk reducing mastectomy. Bilateral means both sides and mastectomy means removal of the breast.

It is important you meet a genetic counsellor before you make a decision about having surgery. They will talk about your own personal risks and explain other options, for example screening for high risk women. Your surgeon and specialist nurse will tell you about the surgery. They will also talk about your feelings and any concerns you may have.

During the operation, the surgeon removes as much breast tissue as possible but it’s not possible to remove it all. So, although surgery lowers your risk it does not go away completely.

You may be able to have breast reconstruction during the surgery, or at a later date. This is surgery to make new breasts using tissue from elsewhere in your body or implants.

Choosing to have risk reducing surgery can be a difficult time for you and your family, so it is important to ask questions. Your doctors and nurses will support you when making your decisions and throughout your treatment. Speak to your doctor if you have family members with breast cancer and you think you might be at increased risk of developing it.

8. Does having children reduce your risk of breast cancer?

Whether you can have children or when you have them may not be something you can control. Having children and in particular having a child at younger age can slightly lower your risk of developing breast cancer. The risk gets lower the more children you have.