As part of an ongoing series of answers to common questions received by the Basser Center for BRCA, Executive Director Susan Domchek, MD, discusses lifestyle interventions, such as diet and exercise, to reduce hereditary cancer risk.

Dr. Domchek: A frequent question that we get is what someone can do from the standpoint of lifestyle interventions to reduce their risk of breast cancer. There are several things that we know about that are associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. These include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, minimizing alcohol intake, and having a diet that's filled with minimally processed foods - lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimizing fat intake.

When we talk about BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers though, these interventions, although they can be helpful for an overall healthy lifestyle, have a modest effect in terms of decreasing breast cancer risk. And the way to think about is because of the gene mutation, there's already a very elevated risk. So even if these interventions do decrease risk a little bit, they don't really have a significant impact on the overall risk.

Having said that, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers have their ovaries removed an early age, and therefore are at increased risk for developing heart disease or bone loss. And so a lot of these interventions that I just mentioned also will help with those sort of long-term health outcomes, and so are a really good thing to do.