Are you at risk for breast cancer? The short answer is yes, especially if you are a woman. That means every woman should know what she can do to reduce her risk of breast cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 1 out of every 8 women born in the United States this year will develop breast cancer sometime during her life. Breast cancer also affects men, but at a much lower rate.
It is important to understand that your risk of breast cancer does not stay the same throughout your life. Some risk factors are things you cannot control. Other risk factors are affected by your lifestyle and by choices you make.
Age is the strongest risk factor for developing breast cancer. The older you are, the higher your risk of breast cancer. At age 30, a woman’s risk is approximately 1 in 227. By age 50, her risk is 1 out of 42.
You can never be too old to develop breast cancer. Two out of three invasive breast cancers are diagnosed in women over age 55.
Even among women who are the same age, the risk factors vary. Here are six factors not related to your life choices that can affect your risk of developing breast cancer:
1) Family history
If you have a close blood relative who had breast cancer, you may be at increased risk of breast cancer. These relatives include your mother, her sister (your aunt), your sister or your daughter. Having a close male relative with breast cancer can also increase your risk.
2) Personal history
If you have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, you are three to four times more likely to develop a second breast cancer. This could happen in the same breast or in the other breast.
If you had radiation therapy to your chest area, including your breasts, you are also at higher risk. The younger you were when the radiation treatments took place, the higher your risk will be as you get older.
3) Breast changes
Some women experience abnormal growth of normal cells in their breasts. This means the cells reproduce more rapidly than normal, but the cells themselves are normal, not cancerous. Being diagnosed with this type of abnormal breast change can increase your risk of breast cancer.
4) Genetic mutations
Your genes determine your personal characteristics, like whether your eyes are blue or brown. Genes also affect how cells in your body grow. Mutations or changes in certain genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are known to increase your risk of breast cancer.
For some women, these genetic changes are inherited from a family member. Other women develop these changes without any family history of breast cancer. Only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers are caused by genetic mutations.
5) Breast density
A mammogram allows your doctor to look at the tissue inside your breast. He or she will check for lumps and other signs of cells that are growing out of control which could be cancerous.
Some women have breast tissue that is naturally denser or harder to see through on a mammogram. Although this kind of tissue is not cancer, research shows that women with dense breast tissue have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
In addition, if your breast tissue is dense, the doctor may have a harder time seeing a lump in your breast because it could blend in with the dense breast tissue on the mammogram.
How many years you have your period can also affect your risk of breast cancer. In general, girls who start their periods before age 12 or women who have their last period after age 55 are at higher risk for breast cancer.
Other factors that can affect your breast cancer risk, that are related to your lifestyle or life choices, include:
1) Alcohol use
Research shows that the more alcohol a woman drinks, the more her risk of breast cancer climbs.
2) Birth control
Using birth control pills, which include hormones, can increase your risk of breast cancer. This risk seems to decrease over time after a woman stops taking the pill. Some injectable types of birth control that include progesterone may also increase breast cancer risks.
3) Hormone replacement therapy
Taking hormones for HRT to reduce the symptoms of menopause may increase your risk of breast cancer. This risk may be affected by which hormone or hormones you take, how long you take them, and how old you are when you start taking them.
Breast cancer risk is higher for women who are overweight or obese. This is especially true after menopause.
Being overweight can also increase your blood insulin levels, which has also been linked to increased risk of breast cancer and other types of cancer. And being overweight can increase your risk of having breast cancer come back, if you have already had the disease.
Research shows that exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer. Women who have been physically inactive for most of their lives are at increased risk of breast cancer.
6) Pregnancy and breast feeding
Women who have a full-term pregnancy after age 30 may be at slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Women who breastfeed a child, especially if breastfeeding continues for a year and a half to two years, may be at decreased risk for breast cancer.
Whatever your risk factors for breast cancer may be, early detection is critical in effectively treating breast cancer. Talk to your health care provider about your risks for breast cancer, and be sure to follow his or her recommendations for mammograms and other preventive tests.
National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer Risk in American Women. Web. October 26, 2015.
American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer: Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention. Web. October 26, 2015.
BreastCancer.org. Breast Cancer Risk Factors. Web. October 26, 2015.
Web MD. HRT: Where Are We Now? R. Morgan Griffin. Web. October 26, 2015.
Reviewed October 28, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith