Breast Cancer Awareness: The Modifiable Risk Factors

The risk factors of breast cancer causes can be modifiable and non-modifiable. Read the non-modifiable risk factors of breast cancer. The modifiable risk factors are related to lifestyle and can be addressed by women. As, these are modifiable, it is possible to reduce risk of developing breast cancer by modifying the risk factors in your favor. Your effort to prevent/reduce risk of breast cancer development should be concentrated towards modifying the modifiable risk factors of breast cancer causes, in your favor and reduce the risk. Nothing can be done with the non-modifiable factors, except screening for breast cancer regularly (yearly) to detect breast cancer as early as possible.

What are the modifiable risk factors of breast cancer?

The modifiable risk factors of breast cancer causes are the number of children, alcohol consumption, breast feeding, obesity, physical activity, hormone replacement therapy after menopause, use of DES (diethylstilbestrol) and use of oral contraceptive pills (OC pills).

Number of children:

Women with no children (no pregnancy) or first pregnancy after the age of 30 have greater risk of breast cancer in compare to women with many pregnancies.

Alcohol consumption:

Consumption of alcohol increase risk of breast cancer development. The risk increases with increase in consumption of alcohol, i.e. a woman who take one or more drinks a day have higher risk than a woman who does not drink.

Breast feeding:

Several studies indicate that breast feeding (especially if breast feeding continued for long, i.e. 1.5 to 2 years) reduce risk of breast cancer development. Breast feed your child, this is your baby’s right.


Overweight and obesity can increase risk of development of breast cancer. There is complex relation between obesity and risk of development of breast cancer, e.g. a woman gaining weight as an adult may have higher risk of breast cancer than a woman who is obese since childhood.

Physical activity:

Increase physical activity can reduce risk of breast cancer. American Cancer Society recommends 45 minutes of physical activity (such as brisk walking) a day for 5 or more days a week to reduce breast cancer risk (as well as for fitness and other cancers).

Hormone replacement therapy after menopause:

HRT or hormone replacement therapy with estrogen (and sometimes with progesterone) is commonly used by post menopausal women to prevent post menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis. Use of HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer. Use of HRT is also associated with risk of endometrial carcinoma, which is de to estrogen. To prevent carcinogenic effects of estrogen, a progestin should be added to HRT.

Use of diethylstilbestrol:

Use of DES or diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing breast and genital cancers to the female child and should be avoided during pregnancy.

Use of oral contraceptive pills:

There are reports that use of OC pills is associated with slight increase in breast cancer risk. But this is much less with new generation OC pills (which use minimal amount of drug required) and the increased risk of breast cancer with use of OC pills is overemphasized. In fact use of OC pills has many more health benefits than the slight (if any) increase in breast cancer risk.

N.B.: As the modifiable risk factors can be modified to your favor, it is highly recommended to change lifestyle for reducing breast cancer risks, e.g. obesity can be reduced, physical activity can be increased, alcohol consumption can be stopped etc. to prevent/reduce breast cancer.

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