BREAST CANCER: Dr Deborah Pfeiffer.
BREAST CANCER: Dr Deborah Pfeiffer.

Tips for reducing the risk of breast cancer

TAKE it from an expert, there are some ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Former president of the Australasian Society of Breast Physicians, Dr Deborah Pfeiffer, has spent her recent working life in the field of women's breast cancer.

She is passionate about seeing women be proactive in the management of their risk of breast cancer through one or more of the following strategies.

Family History

  • The majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer don't have a family history of the disease.
  • That equates to 80 to 90% of women who develop breast cancer.
  • However, it is still valuable for families to have an open discussion about their health issues; and not just about breast cancer, but also about bowel, ovary, lymphoma and melanoma cancers.
  • This is often an incredibly hard conversation to have as it is intimate to the core, but the outcomes of getting that information out in the open will help everyone in the family build a health picture for the future.

Breast Awareness

  • Every woman should know their family's breast cancer history, particularly their first-degree relatives.

Genetic Counselling

  • For women with very strong family incidences, genetic counselling is recommended.
  • This doesn't entail testing; it's just about establishing eligibility for testing through a risk analysis.
  • A strong family history is two or more first-or second-degree relatives on the same side of the family, especially if aged 50 or less, diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.


  • Be in a healthy weight range which is between 20 and 25 Body Max Index (BMI).
  • It is recommended that women try to maintain a BMI of 28 or less.
  • A GP can determine a person's BMI.

Physical activity

  • The recommendation is 30 minutes of activity, three to four times a week.
  • Any is better than none. More is better than less. The critical factor is being mobile, Dr Pfeiffer said.
  • Check out the Cancer Council or Heart Foundation websites for ideas on how to get active.

Alcohol intake

  • Restrict alcohol to an average of less than one standard drink per day.
  • A standard drink is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol. One standard drink always contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of container size or alcohol type, that is beer, wine, or spirit.

Minimise Hormone Replacement Therapy

  • HRT relates particularly to women with a strong family history.
  • Dr Pfeiffer said there is a risk of breast cancer for women on HRT, but that risk varies with the type of treatment; it tends to be highest for women on combination treatment and slightly higher for women who are only taking oestrogen.
  • However, the disease progression and survival for women diagnosed with breast cancer tends to be as good as, if not better, than for women who are not on HRT. This outcome she said could however relate to an earlier diagnosis as the HRT-taking women tend to be more breast aware.


  • This is for women with a strong family history of oestrogen-receptive positive breast cancer, which is a common type.
  • There are two medications on the market which are used to treat breast cancer, called tamoxifen and raloxifene, which have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by a significant amount. The down-side of this treatment is it induces the symptoms of menopause.

Prophylactic Surgery

  • Where women have a very strong family history or a genetic positive result, prophylactic mastectomy and, or removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries, is an option.

Other risk reducers

Dr Pfeiffer also said some advice you may wish to give your daughter or granddaughter is, where possible, to not prolong the decision to have children and when you have them, do breastfeed.

For more information on the latest breast cancer issues and advice, go to

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