How can nutrition and weight affect your breast cancer risk?

Take the breast cancer risk quiz.

People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of many serious health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Extra pounds also are associated with a higher risk of cancer.

To help you lower your risk, there are lifestyle changes you can make – different ways to eat and to exercise. Long term, one of the most important changes you can make is maintaining a healthy weight.

We’re still learning how cancer develops, but there’s mounting evidence that losing weight can reduce the risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce levels of hormones like insulin, estrogens and androgens that are associated with cancer risk.

Most cancer specialists agree that the following are risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Tobacco use
  • Increased alcohol use
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Prolonged hormone replacement therapy
  • Family history of breast cancer

While annual mammograms are still key to early detection and successful treatment, maintaining a healthy weight is important to prevention. A guideline for doctors is BMI, or the ratio of a person’s weight and height. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24, with 25-29 considered overweight and 30 and higher considered obese. You can use this online tool to calculate your BMI. 

A plant-based diet can contribute to lowering the risk of cancer. A plant-based diet consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds and whole grains. The Mediterranean diet is based in vegetables, fruit, fish and olive oil. Both diets have been associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about an eating plan that’s appropriate for you.

Among things you can do to prevent breast cancer:

  • Control your weight, maintain a normal BMI
  • Eat a plant-based diet
  • Exercise daily or at least 5 days per week
  • Get an annual checkup with your family doctor, clinical breast exam
  • Start annual mammograms at age 40
  • Be aware of changes in your breasts

Go to to request a mammogram appointment.


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