Breast Cancer Risk Reduction

Breast Cancer Risk Reduction

While breast cancer risk cannot be completely eliminated, it can be reduced substantially. Our expert team will work with you to select strategies that are right for you based on your risk and lifestyle. We will be with you every step of the way, providing leading-edge care conveniently located in your community.

Breast Cancer Risk-Reduction Medications

If you have higher-than-average breast cancer risk, certain medications can help lower your risk of getting breast cancer. Medications to reduce risk are approved for this purpose in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women who are at higher-than-average risk.

Like most medications, these can cause side effects. Consult your physician to determine if risk-reduction medications are right for you.

Lifestyle Modifications

Your risk of developing breast cancer is linked to your lifestyle. Here’s how you can reduce your risk through lifestyle modifications:

  • Exercise. Most people benefit from 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. For effective breast cancer risk reduction, more is better. Discuss your exercise plan with your physician.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. This is especially important after menopause.
  • Diet. Although there is no one-size-fits-all diet for breast cancer risk reduction, there are studies showing that the Mediterranean diet, which is mostly plant-based and rich in whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and non-animal protein, is associated with a reduction in breast cancer risk. This eating pattern is also good for overall health.
  • Talk to your physician about taking postmenopausal hormones. Many women use hormone therapy for managing the symptoms of menopause, but postmenopausal hormone therapy can increase risk of breast cancer. Talk to your physician about how to manage breast cancer risk if you are taking hormones.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. Limit alcohol intake to less than three or four drinks per week on average. Alcohol use increases levels of the hormone estrogen, which is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Stop smoking. Tobacco use has been linked to 15 different cancers, including breast.

If you are at average risk, your primary care physician will help guide you through these lifestyle modifications. If you are at higher risk, resources are also available for you through the Northwestern Medicine Breast Risk Assessment and Prevention Program

Risk-Reduction Surgery

At Northwestern Medicine, you have options for surgical methods to reduce breast cancer risk. No matter what you choose, our board-certified breast surgeons will offer a compassionate approach with advanced technology.

A bilateral prophylactic mastectomy is an effective way of minimizing breast cancer risk in women who have never been diagnosed with breast cancer but have a high risk of developing it because of a cancer-causing genetic mutation like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations. It may sometimes be used in other high-risk situations, including a strong family history of breast cancer. This requires careful discussion with your Northwestern Medicine physician, who is knowledgeable about breast cancer risk and its management.

Bilateral Prophylactic Mastectomy (Bilateral Risk-Reducing Mastectomy)

There are two common approaches to this surgery:

  • Total skin-sparing mastectomy: Removing both breasts, including the nipples, but preserving most of the breast skin for reconstruction.
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy: Removing all the breast tissue possible, but preserving the nipples.

After risk-reducing mastectomy, breast reconstruction is a desired option for most women, and our highly experienced plastic surgery team is available for consultation regarding breast reconstruction surgery.

Because a minimal amount of breast tissue may remain after bilateral prophylactic mastectomy, you should still remain breast-aware and continue periodic examinations according to your physician’s recommendations.