Cancer prevention is when a person takes proactive measures to reduce their cancer risk. While complete prevention is not always possible, there are known risk factors people can avoid to make it less likely to develop breast cancer.

A person can also choose to incorporate more protective factors into their lifestyle. Unlike risk factors that increase a person’s chance of developing cancer, protective factors help reduce cancer risk.

This article explores ways to avoid breast cancer risk factors, incorporate protective factors, and learn which factors may not affect the chance of developing cancer.

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While breast cancer is not always preventable due to various factors such as genetics, individuals can proactively take steps to reduce their risk.

Incorporating certain lifestyle choices and dietary habits can play a significant role in lowering the risk of developing breast cancer.

Avoiding known carcinogens and minimizing exposure to harmful substances can also reduce the risk.

In some instances, medical interventions like taking medication to address precancerous conditions or as preventive measures may be an option.

Risk-reducing surgeries may be possible for high risk individuals after a thorough consultation with medical professionals.

Reducing the risk of breast cancer involves avoiding certain risk factors.

Alcohol intake

Several studies have shown that alcohol consumption directly impacts breast cancer risk. Even moderate alcohol intake can elevate the risk due to its potential to disrupt hormonal balances and damage cell DNA.

Engaging in responsible drinking habits or considering alcohol-free alternatives can be a beneficial step in reducing the risk of breast cancer.


Achieving and maintaining a healthy BMI can be an important part of breast cancer prevention.

Obesity has associations with higher breast cancer rates, especially in postmenopausal people. People who have obesity also have a higher risk of recurrent breast cancer.

Adopting a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and partaking in regular physical activity can help individuals achieve and sustain a healthy BMI.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause

Estrogen therapy that a person takes close to the time of menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. The risk does not appear to decrease after a person stops taking it. However, a large 2021 study found that the risk of breast cancer is extremely low when taking estrogen-only HRT.

Combination hormone therapy consists of estrogen and progestin. This type of HRT can increase the risk of breast cancer. When people stop taking combined HRT, the risk of breast cancer decreases.

The amount of time a person takes HRT can also affect breast cancer risk. The authors of the 2021 study state that there was no increase in breast cancer risk for those who took HRT for less than a year. The risk increases the longer a person takes HRT.

HRT is an important part of helping to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. It is important to have a thorough discussion with a healthcare professional to weigh the potential benefits against the risks.

Learn more about HRT and breast cancer risk.

Protective factors help reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Getting enough exercise

A 2020 prospective cohort found that regular physical activity has associations with a reduced risk of breast cancer.

Exercise helps maintain a healthy BMI, regulate hormones, and improve overall health and well-being.

A person can aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming.

Taking selective estrogen receptor modulators or aromatase inhibitors (SERMs) and inactivators

Certain medications, such as SERMs and aromatase inhibitors and inactivators, may reduce the risk of breast cancer in certain people.

SERMs, like tamoxifen, can help block the effects of estrogen on breast cells, lowering the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

Aromatase lowers the risk of breast cancer and recurrence in those who have previously had breast cancer by reducing estrogen production in postmenopausal people.

Risk-reducing or prophylactic mastectomy

Risk-reducing or prophylactic mastectomy may be an option for individuals with a very high risk of developing breast cancer due to genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, or other strong risk factors.

This surgical procedure removes one or both breasts to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Ovarian ablation

Ovarian ablation is a medical procedure aimed at reducing estrogen levels in premenopausal people with a high risk of breast cancer as a result of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene changes.

Since the ovaries are a primary source of estrogen production before menopause, ovarian ablation may effectively lower estrogen levels and reduce the risk of hormone-sensitive breast cancers.

Breastfeeding or chestfeeding

A 2023 article notes that breastfeeding or chestfeeding can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. The authors note that, for every 12 months of breastfeeding, the risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3%.

This may be because estrogen levels are lower while a person breastfeeds.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the following factors do not appear to affect a person’s risk of developing breast cancer:

  • undergoing an abortion
  • reducing fat intake or increasing fruit and vegetable consumption
  • taking vitamins, including vitamin A
  • applying underarm deodorant or antiperspirant
  • taking statins for lowering cholesterol
  • taking bisphosphonates for osteoporosis and hypercalcemia
  • alterations in circadian rhythm

How does cigarette smoking affect the risk of breast cancer?

The carcinogens in tobacco smoke can damage DNA and increase the risk of various cancers.

Authors of a 2023 systematic review and meta-analysis note that the association between breast cancer and smoking has been controversial. After examining 169 studies, the authors concluded that smoking appears to have a causal role in breast cancer risk.

Quitting smoking or avoiding secondhand smoke exposure is crucial for general health and the prevention of some types of cancer.

Experts conduct cancer prevention clinical trials to explore methods of reducing the likelihood of specific cancer types.

Some trials involve individuals without a history of cancer but with heightened susceptibility. Other trials include people who have previously had cancer and aim to prevent its recurrence or the emergence of a different cancer. Additionally, some trials include healthy participants with no identifiable cancer risk factors.

Cancer prevention trials aim to assess whether certain actions, such as exercising, smoking, taking certain medications or supplements, and other factors help decrease the risk of developing cancer.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional about how to join a cancer prevention clinical trial.

The following are frequently asked questions about breast cancer prevention.

Can hormonal contraceptives increase the risk of breast cancer?

Hormonal contraceptives, which include birth control pills, patches, injections, and intrauterine devices (IUDs), contain synthetic hormones that regulate the reproductive system.

Studies suggest that oral contraceptives can increase the risk of breast cancer.

Can chemicals in the environment increase the risk of breast cancer?

Environmental chemicals, including those found in everyday products, have raised concerns about their potential impact on breast cancer risk.

However, current scientific evidence suggests that the association between these chemicals and breast cancer is not straightforward and is often difficult to establish definitively.

It is a good idea to speak with a doctor about preventing breast cancer during routine check-ups or annual visits. If a person has specific concerns or risk factors, it is best to initiate this conversation sooner.

Ask questions about personal risk factors, family history, lifestyle changes, recommended screenings, potential medications, and any available risk-reducing interventions.

While complete prevention of breast cancer is not always guaranteed due to factors like genetics and other influences, taking various proactive steps can reduce the risk.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, maintaining an average weight, and limiting alcohol consumption can contribute to minimizing the risk.

Additionally, staying informed about risk factors, discussing options with healthcare professionals, and considering personalized strategies such as medications or surgeries for high risk individuals can empower individuals in their efforts to prevent breast cancer.