Dana-Farber expert offers five ways to reduce your breast cancer risk


Erica Mayer, MD, M.P.HErica Mayer, MD, MPH

According to the American Cancer Society, about one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. This year, nearly 40,000 women in the United States will die from the disease. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States, after lung cancer. Erica Mayer, MD, MPH, is a breast cancer expert at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She says there are at least five simple ways women can reduce their risk of getting the disease:

1. Get a mammogram

It's recommended women get a mammogram starting at age 40. "Mammography screening does not prevent or cure breast cancer, but it may detect the disease before symptoms occur," said Dr. Mayer.

2. Eat a healthy diet and keep your weight under control

The American Cancer Society recommends a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fiber. "High-fat diets can lead to being overweight or obese, which is a risk factor for breast cancer," said Dr. Mayer.

3. Exercise

There's growing evidence that physical activity reduces a woman's breast cancer risk. According to one small study, women who engaged in 10 to 19 hours of physical activity per week during their reproductive years or after menopause experienced a 30% reduced risk of developing breast cancer. "Women who exercise regularly appear to be less likely to develop breast cancer. Cancer survivors who are active may have less risk of cancer recurrence compared to those who are more sedentary," said Dr. Mayer.

4. Limit alcohol

Research has shown having too much alcohol can increase your risk of breast cancer. "The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol — including beer, wine or liquor — limit yourself to no more than one half to one drink a day on average," adds Dr. Mayer.

5. Determine if you have family history of breast cancer

Twenty to 30 percent of people who develop breast cancer have a family history of the disease. About five to ten-percent of women carry a BRCA1 or 2 mutation, the so called "breast cancer genes." "For women with a family history of breast cancer, genetic testing can offer information about their personal and family risk of developing breast cancer. And if a woman is found to have a gene mutation, options are available to significantly reduce their risk of cancer," said Dr. Mayer.

At Dana-Farber, patients receive breast cancer treatment at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers Breast Oncology Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center. 

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