Seemingly Harmless Ways You’re Increasing Your Risk of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer can occur in both women and men and can appear at any time. While it is far more common in women, some men are more at risk than other men. Sometimes, even day-to-day tasks can put you at higher risk for developing the disease. Here are some habits and decisions that could be increasing your risk of breast cancer.

Oral contraceptives

 A woman holds prescription contraceptives

The pill slightly increases your chances of getting breast cancer. | Tim Matsui/Getty Images

In 1996, an analysis was done on the potential link between birth control pills and breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. It found women who took the pill had a slightly higher chance of developing the disease compared to women who did not. The risk was highest for women who started taking the pill as teenagers. However, after 10 years off the pill, the women’s risk for developing the cancer returned to a normal level.

Next: Any amount of this can increase your risk. 


Alcoholic Whiskey Bourbon in a Glass with Ice

Keep your alcohol consumption moderate. |

Alcohol has been consistently proven to increase a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer, according to It can increase the level of certain hormones — such as estrogen — that are associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Also, alcohol may damage DNA cells. And damaged DNA cells allow cancer to develop. Women who have three alcoholic beverages per week increase their chance of breast cancer by 15% compared to women who do not drink at all. A 2009 study found drinking alcohol also increased the chance of the breast cancer coming back. However, more studies need to be done in that area.

Next: Too little of this can up your risk. 

Not getting enough exercise

Fit woman doing full plank core exercise

Don’t underestimate the power of exercise. |

A lack of physical activity can also increase breast cancer risk. According to the American Cancer Society, 150 minutes per week of exercise lowers anyone’s overall cancer risk.

Higher estrogen levels can increase the risk of breast cancer development. But consistent exercise can lower estrogen levels, lessening the chance of cancer. Exercise also boosts the body’s immune system, and a strong immune system helps slow the growth of cancer cells. Some studies suggest daily exercise also lowers the risk of mortality from breast cancer.

Next: It’s important to re-evaluate your grocery list. 

Eating unhealthy foods

Giving in to temptation, failing to keep up the diet

Choosing processed foods over whole foods is never a good idea. |

While no specific food or diet can completely prevent cancer, diet is partially responsible for about 30% to 40% of all cancer diagnoses, according to Eating healthy foods — such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — can help boost the immune system. And a good immune system can better combat cancer cells. Some studies have shown foods with pesticides can result in unhealthy cell changes in the body. So purchasing foods grown without pesticides may also reduce cancer risk.

Next: Pay close attention to your body.

Being overweight

A pair of female feet

Keep an eye on the scale. |

Obesity in post-menopausal women has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer. Obesity is also a risk factor for breast cancer in men. explains in terms of body mass index, a five-unit increase in BMI would result in a 12% increase in developing the disease. For post-menopausal women, obesity increases the chances of developing breast cancer by 20% to 40%, compared to normal-weight women.

Next: Believe it or not, too much of this could be dangerous. 

Consuming too much dairy

Dairy products

Dairy is delicious but can be dangerous. |

Some studies have suggested that “full fat” dairy products (such as whole milk) are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The hormones in the full fat products may contribute to the diagnosis. Researchers also recently found women battling breast cancer may have a lower chance of survival if they consume full fat dairy products with the disease. Milk produced by pregnant cows in the United States results in higher hormone levels, which could lead to cancer development in women. However, the research is still inconclusive.

Next: You’ll be surprised to learn this could increase your risk. 

Not having children

Children eating their snacks

Having kids can actually be good for your health. | Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are both linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Fewer menstrual cycles during pregnancy means a lower exposure to hormones. This results in a lower likelihood of developing the cancer. Also, women who give birth at a later age are potentially more at risk than those who give birth younger. However, not having any children puts women at the highest risk. They experience more menstrual cycles and have a higher level of hormones in their body.

Next: Your chances increase over time. 


Getting older increases your chances of getting the disease. |

Although this is an inevitable change, it does have an effect on breast cancer risk. The chance of getting breast cancer before age 40 is rare. Most women don’t start getting a yearly mammography until they turn 40. However, the older you get, the more likely you are to get the disease. The rates increase after 40, and they’re at their highest after age 70. The rate-to-age increase is the same for men, as well. The older we get, the greater the chance for abnormalities to occur in our cells.

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