Unfortunately not all breast cancers can be prevented. Getting older, family history, and genetics are risk factors that women are unable to change, and can play a role in determining the likelihood of developing breast cancer.
The good news is that there are many things that women can do today to reduce their risk of breast cancer in the future. For instance, it has been estimated that 40 per cent of breast cancers in Australia can potentially be prevented by addressing the major modifiable risk factors for breast cancer such as alcohol consumption, being overweight or obese and physical inactivity.
A healthy lifestyle, coupled with staying on top of your breast health through self-checking and regular mammograms from age 50, will put you ahead of the game for breast cancer prevention and early detection.
Even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. The more you drink—and the longer you have been drinking—the greater the risk. Your risk of cancer is the same for all and any types of alcohol consumed—including beer, wine and spirits.
In Australia it has been estimated 830 female breast cancers diagnosed in 2010 could be attributed to alcohol consumption.
To reduce your risk of breast cancer, limit your intake of alcohol or, better still, avoid it altogether. If you choose to drink alcohol, Cancer Council recommends no more than two standard drinks per day.
Tips to decrease your alcohol consumption
- Have no more than two standard drinks per day. The number of standard drinks in a serving of alcohol varies between type, size, brand, and whether your drink comes in a bottle or is poured. For more information about standard drinks, visit our Limit Alcohol page.
- Have as many alcohol free days as you can every week
- Avoid binge drinking—do not 'save' your drinks using alcohol free days, only to consume them in one session
- Choose low-alcohol or no-alcohol beer or wine
- Order beer and cider in a smaller glass—for example a South Australian ‘butcher’ or ‘schooner’ rather than a pint
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones, such as sparkling water garnished with lemon or lime, or a soda, fresh lime and bitters
- Dilute alcoholic drinks—for example, try a mimosa (sparkling wine and ‘no added sugar’ juice) or white wine and mineral water
- Delay the uptake of drinking amongst teenagers for as long as possible
- Avoid ordering cocktails which can contain up to three standard drinks
- Eat some food when you drink—think of alcohol as something you enjoy in moderation alongside food, rather than on its own
- Offer to be the designated driver so you drink less, but make sure you stay under .05
Overweight and Obesity
In Australia it was estimated that 971 (eight per cent) of postmenopausal breast cancers diagnosed in 2010 were attributable to overweight and obesity.
A waistline of more than 80 cm for women increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, and the greater the waistline, the higher the cancer risk. To reduce your risk, aim to keep your waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) within the recommended range.
Measuring waist circumference
Waist circumference is one way to measure body weight. For some diseases—including post-menopausal breast cancer—fat carried around the abdomen and waist is a greater risk than fat carried on the hips and thighs.
- Find the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your ribs.
- Place a tape measure midway between these points, and wrap it around your waist.
- Breathe out normally and check your measurement in centimetres.
Your health status
Level of risk
No elevated risk
Substantially increased risk
Tips for staying in shape:
- make it a priority not to gain more weight
- set realistic goals to lose your weight (aiming for 0.5–1.0 kg weight loss per week, or as recommended by your doctor)
- eat a healthy diet and reduce your intake of sugary drinks
- be physically active at every opportunity
- visit our label reading guide webpage to help you to choose healthier options at the supermarket
- eat according to your needs—be mindful of portion size, non-hungry eating
- keep high-kilojoule, low-nutrient foods (such as chips, cake, chocolate and takeaway foods) to a minimum
- limit alcoholic drinks as they are high in /kilojoules/calories and can also increase your risk of cancer in their own right
- See your GP if you are concerned about your weight, or if you have tried everything and nothing helps you to lose weight
Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer—and can also help you to maintain a healthy weight. One hour of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity is recommended on five or more days per week to reduce your cancer risk.
Moderate activities include brisk walking, medium-paced swimming or cycling.
Vigorous activities include active sports like football, squash, netball and basketball as well as activities such as aerobics, circuit training, jogging and fast cycling.
Ideas for an active lifestyle:
- Walking is great exercise. You do not have to join a gym to be more active. Walk instead of drive to the shops and walk in your lunch breaks.
- Walk with a friend or join a walking group.
- Do something you enjoy or can do with a friend—like tennis, swimming or dancing.
- Do some simple stretching exercises while watching television.
- Take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator.
- If you have a sedentary job, take regular activity breaks and move as much as possible throughout the day.
- Get off the bus/train one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
- Walk or cycle to work.
- Park further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
- Do vigorous housework like vacuuming.
- Get out and work in the garden.
- Take the children or the grandchildren to the park, and join in their games.