8 Surprising Things That Help Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk

There are a lot of factors you can control to help lower your risk. Find out what they are.

About one in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, according to the latest data from BreastCancer.org. While simply being female and aging are the two biggest risk factors (and things you can't control), there are a lot of things you can do to help lower your risk

Findings have revealed that some habits and lifestyle changes are associated with a lower rate of breast cancer, while other research shows an association between certain lifestyle choices (like when you started a family) and a reduction in breast cancer risk. Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of breast cancer, and learn more here about certain changes you can make that are associated with a reduced risk of developing breast cancer.

When You Wake Up

If you prefer to jump out of bed early in the morning, you could have a 40% lower risk of breast cancer than women who stay up late at night, according to research from the University of Bristol. In a study of several hundred thousand women in the U.K. that was presented at the NCRI Cancer Conference in 2018, women who answered questions saying they preferred mornings tended to have a reduced risk of breast cancer over women who had an evening preference.

Your Exposure to Radiation

"You want to avoid exposure to radiation for a lot of different reasons, but certainly for breast cancer and other [cancer risks]," says Dr. Jennifer Caudle, associate professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. "I'm talking about things like a CT scan (also called a CAT scan) that uses high doses of radiation." Even limiting X-rays when you can is a good idea, she says. "Only get the tests you need when you need them. There is some data that suggests that there may be a link between breast cancer and the cumulative exposure to radiation over the lifetime."

Your Evening Screen Time

It can be hard to put down your phone at night, but recent research found that exposing your body to artificial light at night increases your risk for certain cancers, such as breast and prostate. A study of over 4,000 participants indicated that those with exposure to higher levels of artificial light at night (like those emitted from phones and tablets) had a 1.5 times higher risk of developing breast cancer when compared to a less-exposed population. Power down your devices at least an hour before bed and — at the minimum — change the settings on your phone and tablets to 'night shift mode' so you'll reduce the blue light you're exposed to.

Your Choice of Birth Control

"There is some evidence that hormonal contraception, which includes birth control pills and certain IUDs, can increase the risk of breast cancer," says Caudle. A 2017 Danish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported findings that suggested older forms of hormonal birth control, which contained higher doses of hormones, were linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Newer forms of contraceptives that contained lower doses of hormones were considered safer, though all hormonal contraceptives have warnings in the instructions that they could increase cancer risk.

Experts think that the risk is very small and that it can decrease after you stop using contraceptives, Caudle says. (Although the risk is still higher than if you never used hormonal contraceptives at all.) If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your gynecologist about his or her recommendation of the best birth control method for you.

How Much You Exercise

This finding isn't surprising since exercise supports your overall health. But this is something that you can act on right now to help reduce your breast cancer risk. Regular exercise can help reduce your risk of breast cancer if you've never been diagnosed, as well as help reduce the risk of breast cancer returning if you previously were diagnosed. Make an effort to move at least 30 minutes five days a week to reach the recommended 150 minutes per week.

If You Breastfeed — and How Long

Research has shown that women who breastfeed greatly lower their risk of developing breast cancer. “Breastfeeding can play a role in breast cancer prevention, but the thought is, generally, the longer that you breastfeed, the greater the protective effect," says Caudle. This could be due to the hormonal changes that happen during lactation that delay periods and limit exposure to estrogen, which can promote breast cancer cell growth, according to the experts at MD Anderson.

When You Have Kids

Research published in the journal Nature noted an association between reduced risk and the age you give birth. The study reported that for childbirths before 30 years of age, women's long-term breast cancer risk was reduced about 5% for the first baby, 6.4% for the second baby, and 9.4% for the third baby. That doesn't mean, though, that having your children after age 30 is putting you at risk for breast cancer, it's just noting an

How Long You Sleep

In the U.K. study mentioned above, researchers also found that women who slept more than the recommended seven to eight hours had a 20% increased risk of breast cancer per additional hour slept. "We found some evidence for a causal effect of increased sleep duration and sleep fragmentation on breast cancer," Dr. Rebecca Richmond, a research fellow who worked on the study, said in the press release. So work to develop better sleep habits for overall health benefits.

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Personal photos courtesy of Dr.Oz

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