A risk factor is something that raises your chances of getting a health problem. Some of these, such as family history or genetics, cannot be changed. Luckily, many can be.

General Guidelines for All Women

Quit Smoking

Tobacco is harmful to the whole body. The risk of many cancers (not just breast cancer) are higher in women who smoke.

Quitting smoking is a big step in lowering your chances of breast and other cancers. The sooner smoking is stopped, the sooner the body can start to heal. Talk to your doctor about the best ways for you to quit.

Drink in Moderation

Alcohol may cause estrogen levels to rise. This can make the risk of certain types of breast cancer higher. If you drink, you can lower your risk by having 1 drink or less a day.

Eat a Healthful Diet

Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to keep your body strong. This one of the best tools against breast cancer. Lower your intake of red meat by eating more chicken or fish.

Eating the right foods will also help you keep a healthy weight. Excess body weight, mainly after menopause, makes breast cancer risk higher. Fat cells release estrogen. The more fat on the body, the higher the estrogen level.


Exercise is good for well-being and keeping a healthy weight. Physical activity has been shown to lower breast cancer risk in women of any age. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) a week. If you are not active, talk to your doctor about how to get started on a program safely.

Limit Exposure to Estrogen When Possible

High levels of estrogen have been linked to breast cancer. For older women, estrogen comes from hormone replacement therapy (HRT) used after menopause. Your doctor will talk to you about the risks of using HRT before the drugs are started.

General Guidelines for Women at High Risk

Some women have a higher risk of breast cancer:

  • Age over 60 years
  • Age over 35 years and history of lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
  • Problems with BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, or strong family history
  • History of breast biopsies with results that were not normal
  • Prior breast cancer

You may also need:

Genetic Testing

Your doctor may test for problems with your genes if there is a strong link to breast cancer in your family. Women who carry certain genes are at very high risk for breast and ovarian cancers.

Estrogen-Blocking Drugs

There are 2 medicines to prevent breast cancer in high-risk women who past menopause. Tamoxifen and raloxifene work by blocking estrogen from certain cells. However, these medicines also increase your chances blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Preventive Surgery

Surgery to remove both breasts may be a choice for women who are at very high risk for breast cancer. This is not a fool-proof method and does carry some risk. Other prevention choices may work better for you.

Some women can also lower their risk by having their uterus or ovaries removed.


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Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 3/11/2019