International Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 514–521 | Cite as

Lifestyle Changes in Women at Genetic Risk of Breast Cancer: an Observational Study

  • Lorna McLeish
  • Marta M. Reis
  • Clare Stewart
  • David R. Goudie
  • Jonathan N. Berg
  • Michelle Harvie
  • Kirstie A. Hanning
  • Helen Vysny
  • C. Michael Steel



Lifestyle influences breast cancer risk. Women at increased familial risk may benefit from modifying behaviour, but it is not known to what extent they do so.


This study aims to measure changes that UK (Scottish) women make in response to increased familial risk of breast cancer and attitudes to a risk-reduction trial.


A questionnaire, completed by 140 “breast cancer family” clinic patients, generated data on habitual diet, alcohol consumption and exercise, changes made after learning of breast cancer risk and attitudes to possible further changes. Subgroups of patients were defined by criteria likely to influence changes in behaviour. Between-group differences were analysed by Fisher's exact test and overall correlations by linear regression.


Thirty-six subjects (26 %) reported no behavioural change but, overall, around 25 % of diet, exercise and alcohol items had been changed. Women perceiving their lifetime cancer risk to be high (>50 %) and those who were obese (BMI >25) had made significantly more changes than others. Younger women (<40 years) and those with daughters had made fewer changes. Almost all suggested elements of a risk-reduction trial were strongly supported.


Scottish women at increased risk of breast cancer have scope for protective changes in lifestyle and support a risk-reduction trial. The needs of younger women and of those with daughters should be addressed in its design.


Breast cancer Familial Behavioural intervention Diet Alcohol Exercise 



The authors are grateful to all the patients who contributed to this study, which was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorna McLeish
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marta M. Reis
    • 2
    • 3
  • Clare Stewart
    • 2
    • 3
  • David R. Goudie
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jonathan N. Berg
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michelle Harvie
    • 4
  • Kirstie A. Hanning
    • 2
    • 5
  • Helen Vysny
    • 2
  • C. Michael Steel
    • 2
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Clinical GeneticsNinewells Hospital and Medical SchoolDundeeUK
  2. 2.Tayside Familial Breast/Ovarian Cancer ServiceNinewells HospitalDundeeUK
  3. 3.Department of Surgery and Molecular OncologyNinewells Hospital and Medical SchoolDundeeUK
  4. 4.Nightingale and Genesis Prevention CentreWythenshawe HospitalManchesterUK
  5. 5.Medical SchoolUniversity of St Andrews North HaughSt AndrewsUK

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