You may want to consider the following lifestyle factors, as there is some evidence to show that they may affect your chances of developing breast cancer.

Aspirin and ibuprofentablets illustration

Taking aspirin or ibuprofen might slightly reduce your chances of getting breast cancer. But we don’t recommend taking them just for this reason.

Aspirin and ibuprofen are types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are usually taken to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Taking these drugs might slightly lower your chance of getting breast cancer, but not all studies agree. We also don’t know what dose of these drugs would be required, or for how long they would need to be taken to have an effect.

NSAIDs, including aspirin and ibuprofen, can have serious side effects when taken over a long period, including stomach ulcers, anaemia and, less commonly, heart problems. It’s important that you talk to your doctor before taking these drugs regularly for any reason.

Radiotherapy

radiotherapy illustrationIf you’ve had radiotherapy to your chest area, you may have a higher chance of developing breast cancer later in life.

Radiotherapy to the chest area is used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma as well as some cancers and respiratory diseases. Your chances of getting breast cancer are particularly likely to be increased if you received this type of radiotherapy as a teenager.

In recent years, the standard method of chest radiotherapy has changed and the risk of developing breast cancer later in life should be lower than with previous methods.  However, more research is needed before we can be sure of the long-term effects of these newer treatments.

If you’ve been treated with radiotherapy to your chest area, the lymphoma team or radiotherapy centre that treated you should have discussed your breast cancer risk with you, and you may be offered extra breast screening. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure about anything.

Shiftworkshift work illustration

If you regularly work in shifts, you may have a slightly increased chance of developing breast cancer. However, evidence from recent studies shows that shiftwork may not affect your chances as much as previously thought, but we need more studies to confirm this.

Generally, shift work involves working outside standard daytime hours, for example working during the night or for longer periods of time (such as 12 hours or more).

There’s more evidence for a possible link between night shiftwork than for other types of shiftwork.

We’re not sure how shiftwork could increase your chances of getting breast cancer, but it might be that being exposed to light at night increases the levels of oestrogen in your body. Although oestrogen is needed for our growth and development, in some cases it can encourage the growth of some breast cancers. But the evidence for this has mostly come from studies in animals, and we need more research in humans to confirm this.

Shiftwork might also lead to a rise in other lifestyle behaviours, such as being less active and gaining weight, which could also raise your chances of getting breast cancer. So, it can be difficult to untangle the effect of shiftwork from other lifestyle factors.

Smoking 

no smoking illustrationIf you smoke, quitting could help to lower your risk of breast cancer.

There is growing evidence from several recent studies that smoking slightly increases your chance of developing breast cancer. However, more research is needed to be sure.

There’s also some evidence that the younger you start smoking, the greater your risk of breast cancer, particularly if you start smoking before you have children. Your risk may also be higher the more you smoke.

It’s not yet clear whether being exposed to other people’s smoke (passive smoking) increases your chances of getting breast cancer as studies that have looked at this don’t all agree.

Smoking is also a major cause of lung cancer, other cancers and heart disease. You can talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice on quitting. The NHS has resources to help you quit smoking.

X-rays

Having x-rays can increase your chances of getting breast cancer, but the risks associated with most x-rays are very small.

The small health risks associated with this low level of radiation exposure are greatly outweighed by the benefits when x-rays are properly used. If you have concerns about undergoing an x-ray or mammogram, talk this through with your doctor.

Want some more information?

If you are worried about any of the breast cancer risk factors mentioned here you should discuss your concerns with your doctor.

For more information on any of the factors likely to affect your breast cancer risk, download or order our booklet on knowing the facts.

What causes breast cancer? (PDF)

Information Standard logo

Information last reviewed: November 2018

Next review: November 2021

Breast Cancer Now's health information is covered by NHS England's Information Standard quality mark. Find out how this resource was developed.