How our lifestyle and choices affect breast cancer risk.

Our lifestyle choices and the way we lead our day-to-day lives can affect our risk of developing breast cancer. For more information on any of the below factors, download our pdf booklet Breast cancer risk: the facts.

The following factors can reduce the risk of breast cancer developing:

Physical activity

Regular physical activity will help to reduce your risk of breast cancer, particularly after the menopause. Physical activity includes structured exercise and other moderate physical activity, such as walking, housework, cycling at a casual pace, actively playing with children and gardening. If you want to reduce your risk of breast cancer, we recommend you are regularly physically active. Find out more about physical activity and reducing your breast cancer risk.

Download our factsheet: Physical activity and breast cancer risk.

Track your physical activity

We’ve developed a web resource called BRISK where you can find out more about the types of physical activities you can take up, register and track your daily activity, as well as share your own ideas for getting active and hear from other women about theirs. 

Visit the BRISK site

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding your children slightly reduces your risk of breast cancer. The longer you breastfeed in total, the more your risk of breast cancer is reduced.

Read our blog, 'Does breastfeeding affect your risk of breast cancer?'

The following factors increase the risk of breast cancer developing:

Alcohol

Regularly drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing breast cancer. The more drinks that you have each day, the greater your risk of breast cancer will be. If you want to reduce your risk of breast cancer, we recommend you limit the amount of alcohol you regularly drink throughout your life. Learn more about alcohol and breast cancer risk.

Download our factsheet: Alcohol and breast cancer risk.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Taking HRT to treat menopausal symptoms increases your risk of breast cancer; this risk increases the longer you use HRT. The good news is that the increase in breast cancer risk begins to fall as soon as you stop taking HRT, no matter how many years you’ve taken it. If you are considering taking, or stopping taking, HRT you should speak to your doctor.

You can find more information in our factsheet: HRT and breast cancer risk.

For more information on the recent research results from the Breast Cancer Now Generation study about combined HRT use and breast cancer risk please read our blog.

The pill

Taking the pill (combined contraceptive pill) slightly increases your risk of breast cancer. Ten years after stopping the pill this increased risk will have disappeared and your chance of developing breast cancer will be about the same as that of a woman who has never taken the pill. Remember, breast cancer is rare in women under the age of 40, regardless of whether or not they use the pill.

You can find more information in our factsheet: The pill and breast cancer risk.

Pregnancy

Having children affects breast cancer risk in three different ways:

  • In the long term, having children decreases your risk of breast cancer.
  • The earlier a woman begins her family, the lower her risk of breast cancer is.
  • In the short term, your risk of breast cancer may slightly increase after you give birth, regardless of your age. This increase is temporary.

Weight

There are three known links between weight and breast cancer:

  • Putting on weight in adulthood (after the age of 18) increases your risk of developing breast cancer after the menopause.
  • Being overweight or obese before the menopause slightly reduces your risk of developing breast cancer before the menopause.
  • Being overweight or obese after the menopause increases your risk of breast cancer.

You can find more information in our factsheet: Weight and breast cancer risk.

For the following factors, there is some scientific evidence that suggests they may affect the chances of developing breast cancer. More research is needed before we can be sure whether or not they are definitely linked to the disease. Learn more about weight and breast cancer risk.

Healthy diet

Maintaining a healthy diet might help to reduce your risk of breast cancer, as well as other cancers. However, we still aren’t sure whether any specific dietary factors influence the chance of developing the disease. It is unlikely that phyto-oestrogens (found in soya and some other foods) increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

Aspirin and ibuprofen

Taking aspirin or ibuprofen might slightly reduce the risk of breast cancer, but we don’t recommend that women take these drugs solely to lower their risk of breast cancer.

In vitro fertilisation treatment (IVF)

It is unclear whether IVF treatment affects the risk of breast cancer because only a very small number of studies have looked into this. If you are worried about IVF treatment and breast cancer risk you should discuss your concerns with your doctor or fertility specialist.

Smoking

Smoking may increase your risk of developing breast cancer but there is not enough evidence for us to be sure. Recently, some studies have shown that smoking increases the risk of breast cancer; however, some older studies did not find a link.

More information

Visit our publications page to order print copies or download our risk factors booklets for free.

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Information last reviewed: July 2015

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