Breast cancer is a complex disease. We still don’t fully understand it. And while there’s no foolproof way to prevent it, there are things you can do that may reduce your risk of getting it. Most controllable risk factors, however, only have a small effect on risk. There’s no one behavior that will prevent or cause breast cancer. Even a woman with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation isn’t guaranteed to get it. In fact, most people diagnosed with breast cancer are at average risk.
But when we look at groups of people, trends become clearer. For example, if we find there is a 20 percent decrease in risk of breast cancer in one group of people, we can predict there will be a 20 percent decrease in risk in a similar group. What we don't know is which specific people in the group will get the prevention benefit.
We know some behaviors can lower the risk of cancer, but we don’t know how great the benefit is for any one person. For example, non-smokers are much less likely to develop lung cancer compared to smokers. However, we do not know who prevents lung cancer by not smoking and who would have remained cancer-free even if they had smoked. Furthermore, most smokers will never be diagnosed with lung cancer and some non-smokers will. So, taking steps lowers risk, but it does not ensure a person never develops the disease.
The good news is there are some healthy behaviors that are under our control that may reduce the risk of breast cancer. And, making healthy choices can lower the risk of other types of cancer as well as many other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Learn more.
When and how often depends on your age and level of risk.
What to know before you go.
Facts for Life: Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Breast Cancer 101 - Risk Factors
How to Assess Your Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Breast Cancer and the Environment, a Life Course Approach