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What you can do

As a woman, over the course of your lifetime there are many factors that can influence your risk of breast cancer. While some of the most important of these risk factors, such as being a woman, getting older or having a strong family history, cannot be changed, you can still aim to reduce risk of breast cancer through making healthy lifestyle choices and other risk-reducing strategies.

You can also improve your chance of better outcomes by being breast aware and knowing what to do about finding breast cancer early.

Manage your risk

There are things you can do to manage your risk of developing breast cancer. Factors that can be changed are called modifiable factors.

  • Alcohol - drinking alcohol increases your risk for breast cancer. The more you drink, the greater the increase in risk. If you do drink alcohol, limit your alcohol intake to 1 standard drink a day.
  • Body weight – keeping to a healthy weight range reduces risk of breast cancer. Aim to keep to a healthy body weight that is within a Body Mass Index (BMI) range of 18.5 to 25 kg/m2, and have a waist circumference of below 80 cm (31.5 in).
  • Physical activity - active women of all ages are at reduced risk of breast cancer compared to women who do not exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day. The more exercise you do, the bigger the benefits.
  • Menopausal hormone therapy - using menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) that contains both an oestrogen and a progestogen is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, with the risk increasing the longer you take it. If you are taking MHT, review your needs regularly with your doctor.
  • Breastfeeding - breastfeeding can reduce risk of breast cancer – and the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the greater the benefits.

Find it early and survive

Early detection

A woman can develop breast cancer at any age, regardless of her level of risk. So it's important, whatever your risk for breast cancer, to take the time to know the normal look and feel of your breasts as part of your daily routine, know the symptoms to look out for, and see your GP if you find a change that's unusual for you. 

Screening

If you are aged 50-74, get your free breast screen done every two years. BreastScreen Australia offers free breast screening for women without symptoms aged 50-74, when screening has the greatest potential to prevent deaths from breast cancer.

Women aged 40-49 and 75 years and older who have no breast cancer symptoms or signs are also eligible for free screening mammograms.

For more details contact BreastScreen on 13 20 50 or visit www.cancerscreening.gov.au.

For women with a strong family history of breast cancer

While less than 5% of all breast cancer cases are caused by an inherited gene fault, if you are concerned about a family history of breast cancer, your general practitioner will be able to help you assess your risk using Cancer Australia’s online familial risk assessment tool.

It may be appropriate for some women who have a strong family history to be referred to a family cancer clinic. Family cancer clinics can provide a more precise risk assessment, advice about genetic testing and an individualised management plan.

Risk-reducing medication may be considered as an option to lower the risk of developing breast cancer for women who have been assessed as being at increased risk of breast cancer, based on family history. (This is less than 5% of the female population).