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Modifiable Risk factors PDF Print E-mail

Modifiable Lifestyle Risk Factors are those factors for breast cancer that, unlike genetics, can be controlled through lifestyle choices.


Three modifiable risk factors have been identified:




Physical Activity


and Alcohol Intake.

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Introduction to the Risk Factors PDF Print E-mail


Currently, researchers don’t know enough about breast cancer to be able to say who will develop it and who won’t. However, evidence has shown that there are some risk factors that can either reduce or increase a person’s risk for developing breast cancer.


While some risk factors are beyond an individual’s control (such as having a family history of breast cancer or getting older), there are Modifiable Risk Factors that can be controlled through lifestyle choices. Three key modifiable risk factors are nutrition, physical activity, and alcohol intake.


Finally, tobacco and environmental chemicals are also risk factors for breast cancer.


For more information on risk factors please refer to the Hook Up backgrounder or to the individual risk factor pages.

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Nutrition PDF Print E-mail

Evidence suggests that maintaining a healthy weight, through a combination of healthy eating and being active, can be a factor in reducing the risk of breast cancer. Although the direct link between a healthy diet and breast cancer is clearer during adulthood, we know that eating patterns are developed in the teenage years and early twenties. At this stage in life, young women have a high


 level of nutritional awareness and are exerting more control over their eating choices; but they are also exposed to fad diets and fast food. If young women develop healthy eating patterns now, they are likely to continue following those patterns later in life and reduce their risk of breast cancer in the future by maintaining a healthy body weight. It is generally recommended that diets be low in fat and processed foods, and high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

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Establishing the Evidence PDF Print E-mail


The research we have on breast cancer risk factors is from studies completed in the last 3-5 years that have been rigorously reviewed and published in reputable journals. Our references are sources like the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, the National Cancer Institute of Canada and Cancer Care Ontario as well as several international sources.



There are varying levels of scientific evidence that link some risk factors to breast cancer more strongly than others. For instance, there is currently no evidence to support the claim that sleeping in a bra can cause breast cancer. Though our knowledge could change in the future as more research is done, we cannot consider sleeping in a bra to be a risk factor at this time. For other factors (such as being exposed to environmental chemicals like bisphenol A or parabens), current scientific evidence is either “preliminary” or “inconclusive”. That means that we don’t know if these substances do in fact increase the risk of breast cancer or how they might do so. In other cases the evidence is considered “suggestive” or “probable” and more studies have to be done to more clearly establish a linkage and a clear explanation for the study results. This is the case with tobacco smoke.


On the other hand, the three lifestyle factors (nutrition, physical activity and drinking alcohol) have been well-established in the link to breast cancer, through a number of rigorous studies. Interestingly, the evidence linking alcohol to increased risk for breast cancer is considered “convincing” – the very highest level of judgment from the scientific community.

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Environmental Chemicals PDF Print E-mail


Our knowledge of which environmental chemicals can cause breast cancer (and how) is not complete. Research continues to be conducted on a number of substances to increase our understanding.

There are, however, some substances that people are encouraged to minimize exposure to. One such chemical is bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in polycarbonate plastic and in the lining of tin cans. Some research suggests that BPA may be an endocrine disruptor. This means that it may mimic or disrupt hormones (in this case, estrogen) and can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. New evidence indicates that it may be especially important for pregnant women to limit their exposure to BPA to protect their offspring from future breast cancer risk. However, scientists disagree about the results of these studies and more research continues to be done.

Parabens, which are preservatives used in many pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, are also being researched as a potential risk for breast cancer. Parabens are absorbed through the skin, and they have been found in biopsy samples from breast tumours. Some researchers have suggested that parabens increase the risk of breast cancer by mimicking the effects of estrogen, however, more research is needed to establish this link.

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