An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

A healthy lifestyle lowers your risk of getting breast cancer

  • Published
  • By J.D. Levite
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women behind skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Approximately 13% percent of women will get breast cancer during their lives. It’s also the second leading cause of death by cancer for women behind lung cancer. So not only is it fairly common, it can also be fatal.

Breast cancer can impact men as well, so it’s a very serious form of cancer that should not be ignored by any gender.

“Thanks to screening and prevention, this is something where we can intervene,” said Maj. Joshua Duncan, the chief resident for General Preventive Medicine Residency with the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. “We can minimize the risk of breast cancer. We've slowly seen breast cancer death rates decline due to these efforts.”

He added the key to that, though, is women at risk for breast cancer should talk with their healthcare provider. Many of the risk factors impacting the odds of women getting breast cancer include uncontrollable factors like inherited genetic mutations. Since breast cancer can run in the family due to these mutations, it’s a good idea to tell your provider if you know of women in your family who have had breast cancer.

Duncan said, “Age is probably the strongest predictor of the risk of breast cancer. Women who are 70 years old are at a tenfold greater risk than women who are 30 years old.”

This is why women should get mammograms at least once every two years after turning 50, but women with greater risk should talk to their providers about starting these screenings earlier. Duncan said mammograms don’t cure or treat breast cancer, but the goal is to detect it at earlier stages where it can be treated with better outcomes.

“The best thing you can do to minimize your risk of breast cancer is exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption and breastfeeding,” Duncan said. “Having children and breastfeeding is actually protective. For every child a woman has, she further decreases her risk of developing breast cancer if she breastfeeds.”

He said maintaining a healthy weight and exercising at least four hours a week can also have a big impact on the risk of developing breast cancer.

“The things I would emphasize to women when I'm counselling them about breast cancer is they should live a healthy lifestyle, they should talk to their provider about screening mammograms, and they should get seen right away if they have any of those red flag symptoms.”

Red flags include things like new lumps or dimples in the breast or underarm, unusual redness or change in the size or shape of the breasts.

Duncan said there are several resources available for women to learn more, including the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and