About one in every eight women will have invasive breast cancer over the course of her life, and one out of 35 will die from it. While it's far from the leading killer of women (that would be heart disease) or the most common cancer to strike women (that would be skin cancer), that's still a sobering, and scary, statistic.
So what can you do to reduce your risk right now? More than you might think:
Rethink the Pill: Your exposure to estrogen over your lifetime has a significant influence on whether you develop breast cancer. Avoiding extra estrogen via birth control pills, or hormone replacement therapy if you are past menopause, can lower your risk.
Drop some pounds: Being overweight or obese ups your risk for breast cancer after menopause by allowing estrogen to continue circulating. Fat turns certain chemicals into estrogen in the body. Keeping your BMI lower than 25 throughout your life is best.
Get moving: As little as 75 minutes of brisk walking a week can drop a woman's risk by 18 percent. More is better, and the American Cancer Association recommends 45 to 60 minutes of "intentional physical activity," aka planned exercise versus chasing your kids around or walking through the mall, most days of the week. That will also help keep your weight down.
Put down the wine bottle: As little as two drinks a day increases your risk of breast cancer by about one and a half times.
Know your family history: Family history in and of itself is not the major risk factor for breast cancer; having a specific type of gene mutation is. If you have a mother, aunt, or sister who has had the disease, though, you might want to get tested to see if you have the BRAC mutation and take preventive steps such as going on certain medications.
Not everyone can immediately do other things known to reduce your risk, like having your children before the age of 30, having many lifetime pregnancies, and breastfeeding. All of those are thought to reduce risk by lowering your lifetime estrogen exposure. But if you're in your late 20s and wondering if you should think about starting a family, doing so sooner rather than later will bring your risk down. And once that baby is born, try to breastfeed for as long as you can to reduce your risk further.
Here's what won't raise your risk: Wearing underwire bras, using antiperspirant, working a night job, having miscarriages or abortions, or, interestingly, smoking. The jury is still out on what effect, if any, diet and vitamin use have.
What are you doing to reduce your risk of breast cancer?
Image via Chris Breikss/Flickr