Prevention of breast cancer

Ian N Olver
Med J Aust 2016; 205 (10): . || doi: 10.5694/mja16.01007
Published online: 21 November 2016


  • Modifiable lifestyle factors may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Obesity is associated particularly with post-menopausal breast cancer. Diet is important, and exercise equivalent to running for up to 8 hours each week reduces the risk of breast cancer, both in its own right and through reducing obesity.
  • Alcohol consumption may be responsible for 5.8% of breast cancers in Australia and it is recommended to reduce this to two standard drinks per day. Drinking alcohol and smoking increases the risk for breast cancer and, therefore, it is important to quit tobacco smoking.
  • Prolonged use of combined oestrogen and progesterone hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives may increase breast cancer risk and this must be factored into individual decisions about their use.
  • Ionising radiation, either from diagnostic or therapeutic radiation or through occupational exposure, is associated with a high incidence of breast cancer and exposure may be reduced in some cases.
  • Tamoxifen chemoprevention may reduce the incidence of oestrogen receptor positive cancer in 51% of women with high risk of breast cancer. Uncommon but serious side effects include thromboembolism and uterine cancer. Raloxifene, which can also reduce osteoporosis, can be used in post-menopausal women and is not associated with the development of uterine cancer.
  • Surgical prophylaxis with bilateral mastectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy can reduce the risk of breast cancer in patients carrying BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. For preventive treatments, mammographic screening can identify other women at high risk.

  • Ian N Olver

  • Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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