Lower the risk of breast cancer

Make healthy lifestyle choices: The way you live may increase your personal risk of developing breast cancer. Lifestyle factors, such as, alcohol, the effects of stress, high fat diets and a generally sedentary lifestyle may increase your risk of developing breast cancer, as well as other cancers.

Research shows if you drink more than one glass of an alcoholic drink every day, you will increase your risk by approximately 10% for each additional drink per day(11). Alcohol affects the way oestrogen is metabolised in a woman; oestrogen levels are increased. To reduce oestrogen levels, and therefore your risk, alcohol free days are recommended. You need to watch your alcohol intake and try and limit it.

Diet and exercise
A high-fat diet and an inactive lifestyle are risk factors for development of breast cancer. You can lower your risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, such as 30 minutes every day of brisk walking. For post-menopausal women, regular exercise is most important, as if overweight or obese, their breast cancer risk can be increased by approximately 40%.(12)

A healthy diet and exercise routine begins with:
- Eating a lower fat, higher fibre diet
- Using less salt
- Drinking less alcohol
- Having low or no caffeine drinks
- Eating a variety of foods
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Being physically active on a regular basis

Healthy diet suggestions to lower the amount of fat you eat are:
- Lower fat milk products (skim or 1%)
- Cheeses with less than 20% milk fat
- Lean red meats, fish, and skinless poultry
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Food prepared with little or no fat

Boost the fibre in your diet with:
- Breads and cereals (look for multigrain, whole wheat, or wheat bran)
- Legumes (e.g. baked beans or kidney beans)
- Fruits and vegetables (if possible leave the skin on)

For further information on healthy nutrition/nutrition and breast cancer, visit:

World Cancer Research Fund
Healthy Food Guide
The NZ Nutrition Foundation
NZ Cancer Society
The Cancer Project
American Institute for Cancer Research
American Cancer Society

Research on the effects of stress and breast cancer risk has - to date - been inconsistent, and as a result, the risk relationship is considered very weak. Nonetheless, few studies have been performed with sufficient rigour to definitely rule out a minor role.(15)

Recommendation is that you look at your stress factors and change what you can - manage them. For example, go for your regular health checks - screening mammograms, cervical screening, dental visits, etc. Don't push them to the side because of your stress.

Reduce Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) usage: Hormone Replacement Therapy ( HRT) helps relieve the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, night sweats, irregular heartbeat, and sleeplessness. There is strong evidence the use of combination HRT (oestrogen + progestin) will increase your risk of developing breast cancer, particularly if you use HRT for a long time (greater than 4 years). The Foundation recommends you discuss with your family doctor or health professional about whether the benefits of using HRT (combination) outweigh any risks in your case. If you are using or are considering using HRT, it is recommended that you have annual mammograms.

Have children and breast feed for longer: Having children is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. The more children women have, the more their risk of breast cancer appears to be reduced. Among women who have had children, having them at a younger age (less than 30 years) is associated with lower breast cancer risk(13).

Breastfeeding will not totally prevent you from developing breast cancer. However, recent research shows a 4-5% decreased risk of developing breast cancer for every 12 months of breastfeeding. Therefore, reduction of risk is dependent on length of breastfeeding and the number of children breastfed. While breastfeeding, your levels of the female hormone oestrogen are suppressed; therefore, the development of a breast cancer could similarly be suppressed.(14)

• The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation (2009, Oct). ‘Risk and Protective Factors for Breast Cancer'
• New Zealand Technology Assessment (2007, Nov). ‘Risk Factors for Breast Cancer in Women: A Systematic Review of the Literature'
• Cancer Australia. ‘Breast Cancer Risk Factors'


1. Ministry of Health (June 2009). Cancer New Registrations and Deaths 2005 (Revised Ed.), p 20. Wellington: MOH.
2. Bercinskas, L. (2007). Personal communication on the age-specific risks of New Zealand women to be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. BreastScreen Aotearoa, National Screening Unit, Ministry of Health, New Zealand.
3. National Breast Cancer Foundation (2009). Fast Facts about breast cancer in Australia.
4. Cancer Research UK (May 2009) Cancer Stats Breast Cancer - UK.
5. National Cancer Institute/US National Institutes of Health (May 2006). Probability of breast cancer in American Women.
6. Cancer Control Council of NZ (Nov 2008). Mapping Progress 11: Phase 1 of Cancer Council Strategy Action Plan 2005-2010. p.32. Wellington: Cancer Control Council of NZ.
7. Ministry of Health (2008). Cancer New Registrations and Deaths 2005, p. 35. Wellington: MOH.
8. Ministry of Health/NZ Health Information Service Retrieved from The NZ Health Information Service on 12 October 2009 at
9. Ministry of Health/National Screening Unit/BreastScreening Aotearoa (Revised January 2007). Having a mammogram every two years improves a woman's chances of surviving breast cancer (pamphlet). Ministry of Health, Wellington.
BSA pamphlet
10. National Breast Cancer Centre (2006, February). Advice about familial aspects of breast cancer and epithelial ovarian cancer. Retrieved from The National Breast Cancer Centre Website, Australia on 8 August 2007 at
11. The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research' s November 2007 Expert Report on ‘Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective' click here for Chapter 7, ‘Cancers' then scroll down to page 289 for 7.10: Breast http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/downloads/chapters/chapter_07.pdf
12. Reeves. G.K., Pirie, K., Beral, V., Green, J.,Spencer, E., and Bull, D. (2007). Cancer incidence and mortality in relation to body mass index in the Million Women Study: Cohort Study. British Medical Journal 335 (7630):1134.
13. Wohlfahrt, J., and Melbye, M. (2001). Young mothers and breast cancer. Epidemiology, 12, 68-73.
14. Cancer Research Fund and American Institute of Cancer Research (2007). Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Breast Cancer: A global perspective. Breast (Chapter 7.10). p.292.
15. The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, Australia (2009, July). ‘Breast Cancer Risk Factors: A Review of Evidence', pp.55-56