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Understanding Breast Cancer Risk and How to Lower It

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Every woman wants to know what she can do to lower her risk of breast cancer.

Today, there are many risk factors that have contributed to more women being diagnosed with breast cancer. Most breast cancers AREN'T inherited -- only about 5% to 10% are. This means there are many things you can do to lower your risk of being diagnosed.

If you have no history of the disease, there are steps you can take to keep your risk as low as it can be. If you've been diagnosed, there are things you can do beyond any treatments you're receiving to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back or developing a new cancer. And if you are living with advanced-stage breast cancer, you want to do everything you can to slow the cancer's growth.

Researchers are working to learn how factors in the environments outside and inside your body may work separately and together to affect your health and your risk of developing breast cancer. The environment inside your body includes genetics (the genes you got from your mother and father), hormone levels, and illnesses. The environment outside your body includes air, water, food, and everything else you come into contact with each day. Parts of this external environment enter your internal environment every day -- the food you eat, the water you drink, the air you breathe, and the vitamins or medicines you take are just a few.

Some of these factors -- your sex, your age, and your genetics, for example -- can't be changed. But many other factors -- smoking cigarettes, exercising, and eating nutritious food -- can be changed or modified. By making the healthiest choices possible, you can make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible.

These recommendations are based on current knowledge and research. Some of them may seem hard -- losing weight or quitting smoking, for example -- but making these changes can help lower your risk of breast cancer. Remember, no one is perfect. Set your goals and try to do the best you can every day. Chief Medical Officer Marisa Weiss, M.D. says, "Some steps yield instant payoff -- like stopping hormone replacement therapy or catching up on lost sleep. Other steps require a lot of work over time before payday -- like maintaining a healthy weight. Our aim is to give you steps that are very practical and reasonable. Set your goals and strive to do the best you can on an everyday basis!"

In this section, you can learn more about what risk means and how that risk can change:

The medical experts for Lower Your Risk are:

  • Marisa Weiss, M.D., director of breast radiation oncology and director of breast health outreach, Lankenau Hospital, Main Line Health, Philadelphia area, PA; Dr. Weiss is president and founder of
  • Joan Ruderman, Ph.D., Nelson Professor of cell biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA and member of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Carmi Orenstein, M.P.H., Translational Researcher

Dr. Weiss and Dr. Ruderman are members of the Professional Advisory Board, including more than 70 medical experts in breast cancer-related fields.

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