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Many factors increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. Some of these, like age and family history, can't be influenced in any way.

Fortunately, there are many preventative measures that women who are at risk of breast cancer can do to bring down the odds. What are the risk factors for breast cancer that you may be able to avoid? 

Having children later, or not at all

Women who have their first child when they are under 20 have a lower risk of getting breast cancer later in life. Conversely, those ladies who have their first baby when they are over 30, and those who don't have any children at all, have a somewhat increased of developing breast cancer. Why? Apparently, an early pregnancy reduces the estrogen in your life by eliminating a significant number of menstrual cycles. Should this influence your decision making when it comes to having kids? My friend, whose mom died of breast cancer, is glad that she started having babies young. Obviously, if you are not ready for a baby yet, you should not have children earlier to reduce your breast cancer risk.

Not breastfeeding

Scientific research found, time and time again, that women who breastfeed their babies reduce their chance of breast cancer by up to 60 percent according to some studies. Estrogen, once again, is the reason according to doctors. What is interesting though, is that the total length of breastfeeding seems to influence breast cancer risk less than simply breastfeeding for any amount of time, vs never having breastfed. Be careful though; mastitis seems to increase the risk of breast cancer.

Hormone therapy

Taking combined estrogen/progestin hormone replacement therapy following the menopause for longer than five years makes breast cancer more likely. With all the talk about the link between estrogen and breast cancer, it is worth noting that estrogen-only hormone therapy has not (so far?) been associated with the most common female cancer. If you have other significant risk factors for breast cancer, steer clear of hormone therapy and look into other ways to soothe your symptoms instead.

IVF, but only for younger women

IVF increases the risk of developing breast cancer by a whopping 56 percent for women around age 24, says a study published this year. It's worth noting that this slightly misleading statement, found in many places on the web and in newspapers, is only compared to women of the same age who went through medication-only fertility treatments. That is still a difference that wasn't observed in women at age 4o. Fertility medications have actually been shown to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.


Drinking too much boosts your risk of almost any health problem. Sadly, breast cancer is among them. The more you drink, the more likely you are to develop breast cancer. Ladies who enjoy one unit of alcohol a day only have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who don't drink at all. If you have two to five drinks every day, watch out your breast cancer risk goes up 1 1/2 times!


Being overweight or obese has many risks, and more are added to the list every day. Why is obesity, and also "just" being overweight, also associated with breast cancer? You guessed it it is the estrogen, yet again! Fat tissue actually produces estrogen. While you are menstruating, most of your estrogen comes from your ovaries. Post-menopause, fat is the biggest source of estrogen. Literally too, perhaps.

  • Photo courtesy of Arturo de Albornoz:
  • Photo courtesy of Arturo de Albornoz:

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