Breast cancer: what you can and cannot control

Breast cancer: what you can and cannot control

While lifestyle choices can either lower or raise a woman's risk for breast cancer, certain risk factors—such as genetics—that cannot be controlled can increase a woman's risk for developing breast cancer. While great strides have been made in understanding breast cancer risk factors and how a woman's lifestyle can impact her risk, even women with multiple risk factors may never develop the disease. Furthermore, a woman’s risk for breast cancer can change over time, so it is always good to be aware of what can and cannot be controlled when it comes to your risk for breast cancer.

Some women are simply born with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), these uncontrollable risk factors include:

  • Gender: Being born a woman is the greatest risk factor for breast cancer.
  • Age: Risk of breast cancer increases as women age.
  • Genetics: About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases result from gene mutations.
  • Family history of breast cancer: 15 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a blood relative with the same disease.
  • Personal history of breast cancer: Women with a history of breast cancer have a three to four-fold increase in risk of developing a new cancer (not a recurrence of the first cancer) in the other breast or another part of the same breast.
  • Race and ethnicity: In general, white women are more likely to develop breast cancer, but African-American women are more likely to die from the disease.
  • Dense breast tissue: The risk for women with dense breasts (breasts with more glandular and fibrous tissue)  increases 1.2 to two times that of women with average breast density.
  • Certain benign breast conditions are more closely linked to cancer cell growth than others.
  • Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): The risk increases 7 to 11 percent for women who have this condition.
  • Menstrual periods: There's slightly higher risk of breast cancer for women who started menstruating before the age of 12 or experienced menopause after the age of 55, possibly due to longer exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Nevertheless, there are many lifestyle choices that can either reduce or elevate a woman's risk of breast cancer, including the following:

  • Childbirth: There is a slightly higher risk of breast cancer for women who have not had children or who had their first child after the age of 30.
  • Birth control:  Both oral contraceptive birth control and Depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (Depo-Provera®) show a slight increase in breast cancer risk.
  • Hormone therapy after menopause: The use of combined hormone therapy (both estrogen and progesterone) after menopause has been shown to increase breast cancer risk and death from breast cancer. It is recommended that a woman should talk in detail with her healthcare provider about her other risks prior to choosing combined hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms.
  • Breastfeeding: Women who breastfeed for at least 1.5 to two years have a slightly lower risk of breast cancer.
  • Drinking alcohol: Alcohol consumption is clearly linked with an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Being overweight or obese: Risk factors associated with weight are complex. Women who become overweight after menopause have a higher risk of developing the disease. Risks appear greater for women who become overweight as adults, but not necessarily for women who have been overweight since childhood.
  • Physical activity: Growing evidence suggests that exercise can help lower a woman's risk of breast cancer. According to one study from the Women's Health Initiative, as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman's risk of breast cancer by 18 percent.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women. Studies show there may be a link between heavy second-hand smoke exposure and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Smoking can also increase complications from breast cancer treatment, including:
    •         Damage to the lungs from radiation therapy
    •         Difficulty healing after surgery and breast reconstruction
    •         Higher risk of blood clots when taking hormonal therapy medicine

To learn more about breast cancer risks and screenings, consult with your healthcare provider.

Posted: 7/31/2015 by Goshen Health
Filed under: breast, cancer, factors, risk, screenings

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