Cancer Insights: Surgeon Dawn Hills on how to reduce breast cancer risk

October 29, 2014 | by Dawn Hills M.D.

When it comes to breast cancer, women aren't limited to getting screened and, if diagnosed, making appropriate treatment choices. They can also take a proactive stance in the fight against breast cancer by understanding key risk factors and practicing lifestyle habits that can help reduce their own breast cancer risk. Dawn M. Hills, M.D., director of breast surgical oncology at City of Hope | South Pasadena, explains. 

Dawn Hills, M.D. Women can be proactive in the fight against breast cancer. Dawn Hills explains how.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.  Today, there are an estimated 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.  This month, through increased awareness, we create hope – hope needed to ultimately win our fight against breast cancer one woman at a time.

The causes of breast cancer are complex, but early detection has greatly improved breast cancer survivorship, which has tripled over the past 60 years. As we become more informed about breast cancer, its risk factors and, more important, how to reduce and ultimately prevent those risks, we get closer to making this a disease of the past.

Several factors contribute to breast cancer, including:

Estrogen exposure: Breast tissue development is highly sensitive to estrogen, so the more exposure a woman has to estrogen over her lifetime, the higher her risk for breast cancer. Menarche (first menstrual period) at an early age, or later-age menopause, may contribute to higher breast cancer risk.{C}

Age: Two of three cases of invasive breast cancer are found in women over 55 years of age.

Family history: The absence of a family history of breast cancer should not discourage age-appropriate screenings. More than 80 percent of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are the first and only ones with breast cancer in their family; one or more first-degree relatives with breast cancer increase a woman's risk by about 2.5 times.

Genetic mutations: Genetic mutations for breast and ovarian cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2) greatly contribute to risk; 5 to 8 percent of breast cancers are due to this mutation, passed on by a parent or grandparent. Those possessing this mutation have an increased risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer in their lifetime.

That doesn't mean all risk is beyond a woman's control. Some simple lifestyle practices can greatly decrease a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

Control weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to minimizing your risk. Being overweight after menopause increases breast cancer risk. Once ovaries stop functioning, estrogen is generated from fat tissue.

Maintain physical activity. Brisk walking of 2 to 2 ½  hours a week reduces women’s risk by 18 percent.

Limit alcohol. Alcohol has been clearly linked to increased risk. Women should have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day.

Get screened. Maintaining regular screenings is critical to detecting breast cancer early. Have regular screenings and do breast self-examinations.

  • Undergo an annual mammography beginning at age 40.
  • Get selective screening if you're under age 40 and considered higher risk.
  • If you're 20 or older, do a monthly breast self-exam.

Women can empower themselves by increasing their awareness of their own risk factors and taking steps to reduce that risk. Making simple lifestyle changes and being informed can minimize the fear of the disease; being proactive and being informed are your most powerful tools in the fight against breast cancer.


Do you have a question for Dawn Hills about breast cancer? If so, post it below.

*** Learn more about breast cancer research and treatment at City of Hope.

Become a patient or get a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). Our staff will explain what previous medical records we'll need for your first appointment and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.



Back To Top

Search Blogs