Decrease Risk Factors to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Submitted by M. Lisa Attebery, DO, FACOS

Spend time outdoors and get exerciseWomen’s health is a hot topic in the media, whether it be in the magazine, newspaper, radio or television. As a general surgeon specializing in breast surgical oncology, I frequently get asked what women can do to decrease their risk of developing breast cancer. 

Breast cancer is the number one cancer in women, with lung cancer being second. The risk factors for developing breast cancer are diverse, with only a few being related to genetics. 

About 60 to 80 percent of all breast cancers have NO family history origin. Less than 15 percent of breast cancer patients can point to a family member who also had breast cancer – meaning a mother, sister, or aunt had breast cancer.  Only 5 to 10 percent actually have a genetic link (BRCA gene) for risk of developing the disease. 

We know that certain risk factors are associated with developing breast cancer:  A genetic mutation, high estrogen environment, previous radiation to the chest and previous history of breast cancer. Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about the disease to identify distinct risk factors. 

Having said that, I do think there are behavioral modifications that can help decrease one’s risk.  First and foremost, control your exposure to estrogen whether it be medication, herbals or obesity. A lot of myths are associated with breast cancer such as deodorant use, exposure to cellular phone towers, underwire bras and frequent mammograms cause breast cancer. ALL of which are false!

My recommendations to patients wanting to decrease their risk of breast cancer is to develop a healthy lifestyle, exercise and keep an ideal body weight. Individuals that are obese have more circulating estrogens in their body, so decreasing the fatty tissue will decrease the estrogen level.

Between 60 percent and 80 percent of breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen and grow when exposed to the hormone.

In addition, you should:

  • Limit alcohol and cigarette exposure. 
  • Exercise. 
  • Eat a balanced diet.

The goal is to have your body in optimal condition. Sure, healthy individuals get cancer, but decreasing risk factors and environmental exposures can only help.  The research and molecular make-up of breast cancers is expanding on a daily basis.

My hope is one day that I will never have to do surgery on breast cancer even though it would end my career.

M. Lisa Attebery, DO
M. Lisa Attebery, DO, is a Board Certified General Surgeon, specializing in Breast Surgical Oncology, with Beebe General Surgery. Dr. Attebery performs several types of minimally invasive general surgery, including: gastrectomy, colectomy, cholecystectomy, thyroidectomy, appendectomy and hernia repair/surgery, in addition to breast surgery. With a specialization in Breast Surgery Oncology, she was among the first in the Philadelphia area to perform Nipple-Sparing Mastectomies. She is skilled at 3-D breast biopsies. Dr. Attebery earned her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Kansas City University, graduating Magna Cum Laude. She completed her residency at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, as Chief Resident, and her Fellowship in Breast Surgery Oncology from Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. Since 2016, she continues to serve as the Clinical Instructor in the Department of Surgery at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She has been awarded “Top Doctor” in the Philadelphia area for five consecutive years and continues to serve as the committee for Cancer Liaison Physician with the Commission on Cancer. For more information, call Beebe General Surgery at (302) 313-2000. For more information on Beebe Healthcare, go to