Dear doctor, how can I reduce the chances of developing breast cancer?

10 October 2017

Q: My friend has recently had a breast cancer scare which has given me a wake up call. Is there anything I can do to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer?

A: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK, with one in eight women developing it in their lifetime. It is therefore important to be aware of what your breasts look and feel like so you know what is normal for you and when you need to seek help.

A small number of breast cancers (five percent) are caused by inheritance of a known faulty gene (BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53) but the majority happen by chance.

There are a number of risk factors - do not worry about those you can't control. However there are some lifestyle choices that can be made to reduce the risk of developing the disease. Your risk is unique and changes as you get older and you have to decide what is right for you at any particular time in your life.

Risk Factors include:

  • Getting older
  • Being female
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Early onset of menstrual period and late menopause
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol
  • Late or no pregnancy
  • Oral contraceptive pill
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Not being physically active
  • Being overweight or obese

Checking your breasts regularly (usually once a month), can be helpful in making you confident detecting any unusual changes. Earlier diagnosis of breast cancer will lead to earlier treatment and better outcomes. If you notice any concerning changes, you should visit your GP or be reviewed by a breast specialist.

Wear a pink ribbon in support of breast cancer throughout October.

Mr Avi Agrawal is a Consultant Breast Surgeon practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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