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Breast Cancer Awareness


…that some factors which increase the risk of breast cancer relate to choices we make, such as what we eat and whether we are physically active or not?


  • The National Cancer Institute estimates that in the United States, 281,500 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2021 and 43,000 deaths will occur.2
  • Breast cancer is the second most frequently occurring cancer in women (the first is skin cancer).2
  • Breast cancer survival rates are increasing, with over 90 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer surviving beyond 5 years.2
Men also get breast cancer.

Over 2,500 new cases of breast cancer in men are expected and approximately 530 deaths due to breast cancer are expected in men in 2021.3


A risk factor is a trait or behavior that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease. Some risk factors for breast cancer can be reduced by changing our behavior and making healthy choices. It is possible that more than one risk factor rather than a single factor would explain a person’s breast cancer risk.

  • Combination hormone replacement therapy, including estrogen and progestin. To relieve the symptoms of menopause, hormone replacement therapy may be prescribed. This may include estrogen alone or combined with progesterone. Treatment with estrogen and progesterone in postmenopausal women has been found to increase breast cancer risk. 1.4
  • Obesity. There is convincing evidence that being overweight increases your risk of breast cancer in women who have gone through menopause. Therefore, choose a diet low in fat, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, limit sugary drinks and processed foods, and exercise regularly.1,4.
  • Alcohol consumption. Having 2-3 drinks each day increases your risk of breast cancer by about 20 percent (a drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor).4 The American Cancer Society recommends that it is best not to drink alcohol at all but if you do, women should limit their intake to 1 drink per day and men to 2 drinks per day.5
  • Physical Activity. Being physically active, especially after menopause, may reduce the risk of breast cancer.4 The American Cancer Society recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week.4
  • Birth Control Methods. There is some evidence that women who have used birth control pills have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. The increased risk appears to decline once a woman stops using birth control pills and returns to normal after ten years.4.
  • Having Children and Breastfeeding. Pregnancy decreases estrogen (a female sex hormone) production, which lowers breast cancer risk, especially for those women who have children at a younger age.1,4 Some studies also suggest that breastfeeding, especially if it is continued for more than a year, lowers breast cancer risk.1,4,.

  • Age when menstruation or menopause begin: Women who have their first period before age 12, and those who experience late menopause (after age 55), have increased breast cancer risk because their body produces estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, for longer periods.
  • Family History: Most women (85%) who develop breast cancer do not have a close family member who had breast cancer. If you do have a mother, sister, or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer your risk is double that of someone who does not.4 This increased risk may be due to inheriting changes in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary. Discussing your family history with your doctor can help you determine whether genetic testing is appropriate.1,4.
  • Dense Breasts: Breasts appear more dense on a mammogram if they have more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue. Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer, about 1 ½ to 2 times higher, than women with breasts of average density. Dense breast tissue also makes it more difficult to detect breast cancer in a mammogram.4 If you receive notification that you have dense breasts, please share this communication with your healthcare provider. You may need to have a conversation about other breast cancer risk factors with your clinician to see if additional screening tests, such as ultrasound or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are needed.

  • Tobacco Smoke. Some studies have indicated that exposure to tobacco smoke may increase the risk of breast cancer.1,4,6 The greatest risk appears to be with heavy smoking and in women who started smoking before they had their first child.4
  • Environmental Agents: Chemicals can be found in air, drinking water and food, leading to exposure. Exposure to chemicals also occurs in household products, such as cleaners, cosmetics, pest control or hobby/craft materials. Some chemicals or factors in the environment to which humans are exposed may cause adverse health effects. Though clear evidence linking such exposures and breast cancer is difficult to determine, chemicals that mimic hormones, known as endocrine disruptors, have received a great deal of attention.4.
  • Diet: Research linking diet and the risk of breast cancer have found either inconsistent results or weak associations. Inconsistent results have been found linking high fat diets and breast cancer. There is weak evidence of a lower risk of breast cancer and 1) diets high in fruits and vegetables and calcium-rich dairy products but low in red and processed meat and 2) diets high in soy products.4 Eating plenty of whole grains, a variety of fruits, vegetables, and beans, while limiting red meat and processed food can help maintain a healthy weight and therefore, lower risk.7
  • Shift Work at Night: Though more research is needed, there is some evidence that suggests women who work night shifts might have a higher risk of breast cancer.4


For both men and women, screening and awareness of how your breasts look and feel normally are important steps to detecting breast cancer early. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the more likely it will be treatable.4

  • Signs of breast cancer in men and women may include a lump, pain or redness, dimpling of breast skin, discharge from the nipple, the nipple may turn inward, changes in breast size or shape or swollen lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone.3,4
  • Screening tests, such as mammograms, are used to detect breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before a lump may be big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Men and women should talk to their health care provider about which screening tests are right for them and when to get them. Specific recommendations on when to start yearly mammograms in women of average breast cancer risk vary among health and medical organizations, but typically range between 40 and 50 years.4,8


The National cancer institute’s breast cancer risk assessment tool can help you calculate your risk of developing breast cancer. follow up with your doctor to discuss the results after taking the test.

More resources:

  6. National cancer institute fact sheet on secondhand smoke and cancer, 12/4/2018
  7. Diet, nutrition, physical activity and breast cancer ( American institute for cancer research. diet, nutrition, physical activity and breast cancer. updated 2018.
  8. Centers for disease control. breast cancer screening. updated september 22, 2020.
  9. Centers for disease control. health effects of cigarette smoking. december 10, 2020.

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