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Your Lifestyle And Environment

Every day we make choices that influence our health. With busy lives and demands on our time, making healthier choices can be challenging. Yet even small changes in your lifestyle—or gradual ones—will benefit your breast health, help to reduce your breast cancer risk, and improve your overall health and well-being.

Research shows that there are many things we can do to reduce the risk of breast cancer – and try to prevent its recurrenceRecurrence:
Cancer that returns after treatment.
. These factors relate to how and where we live, work, and play.

Healthier body weight 

In North America, research estimates that 17% of breast cancers could be prevented with healthier body weights alone. A healthier body weight is one of the most important ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer, especially for women who have gone through menopauseMenopause:
A natural part of a woman's aging process, when the ovaries start to make less estrogen and progesterone and the menstrual periods stop. This change typically occurs between the late 40s and mid-to-late 50s.
. Less body fat means lower exposure to estrogenEstrogen:
A female sex hormone that is produced mainly in the ovaries. A woman’s levels of estrogen fluctuate throughout her life. Estrogen has been linked to the development of breast cancer and may promote the growth of cancer cells.
and other hormonesHormone:
A natural substance released into the body by the endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, adrenal gland or ovaries.
that may increase the risk of breast cancer.

Healthy, balanced diet   

Taking a balanced approach to what you eat can help you to reach or maintain a healthier body weight, which is a key factor in lowering your risk of breast cancer. There is no single ‘superfood’ that can prevent breast cancer. Research on nutrition, cancer risk, and risk reduction tells us that we can reduce our risk of cancer by eating a more balanced diet with a variety of foods and smaller portions for a healthier body weight. 

Regular physical activity

Regular physical activity helps improve overall physical, emotional and social health and well-being. Another important reason to get more active is that it can lower your risk of breast cancer by as much as 25%. Research indicates that the level of hormones produced by the body that may promote cancer development can be modified by physical activity.


Active smoking may increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Evidence also suggests that exposure to second-hand smoke (sometimes called passive smoking), particularly in girls and younger women, may increase their breast cancer risk.  There are many other benefits to not smoking – it can lower your risk of other disease and chronic conditions such as such as heart disease, lung cancer and other cancers.


Alcohol is a known carcinogenCarcinogen:
A substance that causes cancer or helps cancer to grow. Tobacco and alcohol (ethanol) are examples of carcinogens.
—a substance that causes cancer. The breast is one of the most sensitive parts of the body to the cancer-causing actions of alcohol. It’s not the type of alcohol that causes cancer, it’s the amount consumed and how frequently. Having one drink per day can increase a woman’s relative risk of breast cancer by up to 13%, and the risk increases with the number of drinks.

Your Environment

We know that breast health, as part of our overall health and well-being, is shaped by our biology and the way we live. Increasingly, we are also learning about how our health and risk for disease, including breast cancer, is influenced by our environment - where we live, work, and play.

There is a growing body of research that links chemicals in our environment with breast cancer risk. These include workplace chemicals used in some industries, as well as chemicals in the personal care and household products we use. 

In the workplace

Close to 60 workplace chemicals are listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as known or probable causes of human cancer. Furthermore, at least 100 workplace chemicals are suspected of being possible causes of cancer, including breast cancer. Depending on where we work and what we do for a living, our health may be affected. We are most at risk if we are exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace.

In the home

Evidence suggests that low-level chemical exposures in our environment may cause unintended changes in our bodies, including disruptions in the hormonal system, early puberty or altered mammary gland development—factors known as triggers for breast cancer.

Studies of indoor air and household dust show that we are exposed to a daily mix of synthetic chemicals in the home. This chemical mix comes from the air outside, from building materials and furniture, from our possessions and the personal care and household products we use. Knowing what is in the products we use and how they impact our health can help us to make informed choices about the products we buy.

Precautionary Principle

When we face scientific uncertainty, we have options and we can act. If we think there is potential for harm, we can choose to take preventive action now – this is what’s known as the precautionary principlePrecautionary principle (precautionary approach):
An approach to preventing harm to human health and the environment when the scientific evidence is not conclusive. When we face scientific uncertainty, we have options and we can act. If we think there is potential for harm, we can choose to take preventive action now – this is what’s known as the precautionary principle.

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation supports the use of the precautionary principle as a way to apply evolving breast cancer prevention evidence in our daily lives. By following the precautionary principle in your life, when scientific evidence is inconclusive you put your health first and err on the side of caution.



Brophy, J., Keith, M., Watterson, A., Park, R., Gilbertson, M., Maticka-Tyndale, E., Beck, M., Abu-Zahra, H., Schneider, K., Reinhartz, A., DeMatteo, R., & Luginaah, I. (2012). Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: A Canadian case control study. Environmental Health, 11 (87). Accessed June 17, 2014

Butt, P., Beirness, D., Gliksman, L., Paradis, C., & Stockwell, T. (2011). Alcohol and health in Canada: A summary of evidence and guidelines for low risk drinking. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Friedenreich, C M & Cust, A E. (2008). Physical Activity and breast cancer risk: impact of timing, type and dose of activity and population subgroup effects. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2008; 42: 636-647.

Gray, J. (Sixth Ed, 2010). State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment. Breast Cancer Fund. Accessed June 17, 2014

International Agency for Research on Cancer, Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Vols 1-100. Accessed June 17, 2014

International Agency for Research on Cancer. (2007). Breast and colorectal cancers are associated with alcohol consumption, says IARC. Accessed June 23, 2014.

World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. In Washington DC: AICR, 2007.

American Public Health Association. (2014). Breast Cancer and Occupation: The Need for Action. Accessed on August 11, 2015.