Follow these research-backed tips to maintain a healthy lifestyle

When it comes to lowering your risk of breast cancer, there are a number of ways to protect yourself. While it’s true that some factors contributing to your individual risk of the disease are out of your control—such as genetics, family history, race, and ethnicity—lifestyle choices can play a pivotal role in breast cancer prevention.

BCRF investigator Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard Medical School is a global leader in nutrition who focuses on the intersection of diet, lifestyle, and health. His research is aimed at characterizing the impact of diet and lifestyle on health outcomes, especially in relation to breast cancer risk.

To lower your risk of breast cancer today, below are Dr. Willett's research-backed tips.

Maintain a healthy weight. The relationship between body weight and breast cancer risk is complex. According to the National Cancer Institute, being overweight or obese after menopause increases a woman's risk of breast cancer and can worsen outcomes after a diagnosis. The American Cancer Society’s 2019 statistics attribute rising rates of the most common type of breast cancer—hormone receptor (HR)-positive—to rising rates of obesity and excess body fat. Putting on a lot of extra pounds in the early stages of adulthood can nearly double your chance of developing breast cancer after menopause. But if you’re able to avoid gaining weight, your risk is cut in half. The good news is studies have consistently shown that losing weight and maintaining a healthy diet can reduce your risk. 

RELATED: BCRF-Supported Study Shows That Sustained Weight Loss in Women Over 50 May Lower Risk of Breast Cancer

Eat less red meat. High consumption of red meat is related to a greater risk of developing breast and other cancers. Aim to consume more plant-based sources of protein, such as beans and lentils, nuts, and quinoa.

Serve more fruit and vegetables. "Greens like spinach, kale, and collards are often a weak spot in many diets," Dr. Willett told BCRF. "In fact, in our surveys we found about 50 percent of Americans eat almost no greens." A lower intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with breast cancer—particularly estrogen receptor–negative breast cancer. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend consuming two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables each day.

Limit alcohol. Even moderate alcohol consumption—defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks a day for men—is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. Women who have between two and three alcoholic drinks per day have a 20 percent higher risk of the disease compared to those do that do not drink.

Quit smoking. Make this year the year you finally kick cigarettes for good: Several studies have demonstrated a link between smoking and an increased risk of developing breast cancer.


This article has been updated since publication.

Get the Latest

Sign up for updates on groundbreaking research and stories from the breast cancer community.