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By Anonymous January 5, 2009 - 9:56am
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Hi Anon
Thanks for your question; it's a smart one.

There are various components with regard to who is more likely to get breast cancer, or even what kind of breast cancer, because there are various forms/strains. Some forms are more aggressive than others.

Firstly, everyone is at risk for breast cancer, even men, who make up around 3% of breast cancer cases. Approximately one in every eight women will get breast cancer. Women have a sister, mother or grandmother who have had breast cancer also have an increased risk of breast cancer but most women (over 70%) who receive a breast cancer diagnosis do not have a family history of the disease (that they know of).

Other risk factors are
overuse of alcohol,
having a first child over the age of 30,
having periods early (before age 12)
entering menopause later (after age 55)
not having a child at all
not breast-feeding
having very dense breast tissue

The risks are only slightly increased with many of the above.

As a woman gets older, her risks increase. Of course, that's the case with most cancers. And use of hormone replacement therapy can also increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. The risk is even higher if she has had cancer before and takes hormone replacement therapy.

There are many other rumors or pieces of information out there that are either not true or there is no current evidence to support them. For example, abortions, miscarriages, underwire bras, and use of antiperspirants do not increase the chance of getting breast cancer. When I was growing up, it was all the rage to talk about antiperspirants causing breast cancer but there is no evidence to back this up. Smoking is also not linked directly to breast cancer but since smoking usually eventually causes death or serious illness, it's best to avoid smoking anyway.

Another factor that may be true is stress. But stress can be part of the reason we get all sorts of illnesses, not just cancer.

There is no real way to ensure you don't get breast cancer (unless you have no breasts and even then, there is a tiny risk). We are all at risk. The best we can do to lessen our risk of breast cancer is eat healthfully, exercise and do monthly breast checks as well as mammograms or ultrasounds. We need to bear in mind our family history and remember that early detection is key.

There are also genetic tests called BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 that can tell a women if she has a genetic risk of getting breast cancer (and ovarian cancer). There are benefits and risks to this test. If you receive a positive result that states your chances are high that you'll get breast cancer, you may be denied health insurance, life insurance or even a job if this information is made public. This is a fact of life with regard to these tests.

On the other hand, a positive result may allow to you take precautions like having your breasts removed. While this seems extreme, some women choose this option. Please remember that genetic testing is very expensive and many insurance carriers will not cover you.

I hope this information helps. Have you been diagnosed with breast cancer or are you afraid you may be?

January 5, 2009 - 12:57pm
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