World Cancer Day brings with it a surge of questions about the dreaded C word that doctors and patients, the world over, are most afraid of hearing. Breast cancer has rapidly become one of the most dreaded diseases in the world. There are millions of new cases of breast cancer being reported every year.
The diagnosis of this disease, in many cases, takes too long simply because of a lack of overt symptoms. Studies have also shown that there may also be a strong hereditary connection to this disease. Having said that, there are a number of risk factors that can considerably increase your chances of contracting this disease.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
There is two types of risk factors that can lead to breast cancer among women. One type of factor is those that you cannot change, the other set, however, are ones that you have complete control over. Let’s take a look at both.
Factors beyond your control:
Age: The risk of contracting breast cancer increases with age, most breast cancers are diagnosed after the age of 50.
Genetic Changes: There are certain inherited changes to particular genes, especially BRCA1 and BRCA2, that can cause you to have breast cancer. Women who have inherited these genes are at a higher risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, both.
Reproductive History: Those women who start having menstrual periods before the age of 12 and those that start menopause at the age of 55 are exposed to hormones for a longer duration. This increases their risk for breast cancer.
Breast Density: Women who have dense breasts are at a greater risk of having breast cancer. This is simply because these breasts have much more connective tissue than fatty tissue making it difficult to see tumors on mammograms.
Medical History: It is known that women who have had breast cancer once are at a greater risk of recurrence. Moreover, if a woman has a personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases she can get breast cancer. Non-cancerous breast diseases like atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma are also connected with a higher risk of breast cancer.
Family History: If the woman has a female member of her immediate family that has had breast cancer, or family members on her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had the disease, she is at high risk for breast cancer. This is true even if the woman has a male relative who had breast cancer.
Radiation: Women who have had radiation therapy on their chest or breasts before 30 years of age are at great risk for breast cancer.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES): DES was a drug usually given to women who were pregnant to prevent miscarriages. Women whose mothers took the drug are at risk for breast cancer.
Factors under your control:
Sedentary Habits: It has been found that women that are not physically active are at a greater risk of breast cancer.
Weight: Research has shown that older women that are overweight or obese are at great risk of getting breast cancer than those that are at a normal weight.
Ingesting Hormones: There are forms of hormone replacement therapy which when taken during menopause can increase the risk of breast cancer. There are certain oral contraceptives that have also been found to increase breast cancer risk.
Reproductive History: If a woman has had her first pregnancy before the age of 30, or is not breastfeeding, or never has had a full-term pregnancy, she can have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Alcohol: Studies have been emphatic about their findings that women who drink increase their risk for breast cancer by a large margin.
There are also a number of other factors like smoking, exposure to chemicals, and others that can increase the cancer risk in women. Even something like working night shifts can change the hormonal balance in a woman’s body exposing her to the risk of breast cancer.
How to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
There has been a lot of research on lifestyle changes that can affect the risk breast cancer poses you. It has been found that some of these changes may even work in women who are at high risk for breast cancer. Here are some things that you can do to curtail your risk of getting breast cancer:
Exercise: It has been found that women above a certain age that are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of breast cancer. Exercising regularly not only keeps your weight under control but also floods your body with endorphins that elevate your mood. Beating the disease is as much physical as it is psychological.
Stop Smoking: Cigarettes, and tobacco as a whole, are one of the biggest contributors to cancer wards in the world. There has been evidence found that connects smoking with breast cancer in premenopausal women. This makes it more imperative than ever to completely stop smoking.
Reduce the Booze: On the same lines as smoking, alcohol has been found to increasing the risk of breast cancer among women. If you must, limit yourself to less than one drink a day, this is because even small amounts can increase your breast cancer risk.
Breast-feed: Studies are not conclusive on this but it has been found by some researchers that breastfeeding can play a role in breast cancer prevention. This is why conventional wisdom often dictates that the longer you breastfeed the greater the protective effect.
Limit dosage and duration of hormone therapy: It has been found that hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases your risk of breast cancer. If you have been prescribed hormone therapy for menopause, make sure you ask the doctor about your options and the risks it entails. There are non-hormonal therapy medications available to manage this situation.
Avoid radiation and pollution: There are a number of medical imaging methods like computerized tomography that use radiation. There is more research required on this subject but a link between breast cancer and radiation exposure has been established.
Diet and Breast Cancer Prevention
A healthy diet can be the solution to a lot of maladies including diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Take the example of women who eat a Mediterranean diet. Supplemented with olive oil, mixed nuts, and lots of vegetables it markedly reduces that risk of breast cancer. There are a number of foods such as berries, cruciferous vegetables, garlic, and even Brazil nuts that are great in a battle against cancer cells. Make sure that you are choosing healthy fats and plant-based foods. Learn to let go of red meat and choose fish instead. This will also help you in keeping your weight under control.
Birth Control Pills and Breast Cancer
There has been a lot of research on the effects of birth control pills and the effect they have on the human body. It has been found that hormonal contraception like birth control pills and IUDs that release hormones increase breast cancer risk. This risk, however, is considered to be very nominal and decreases rapidly once you stop taking the contraceptives or get the IUD removed.
Breast cancer is an insidious disease. The best way to diagnose this is to get regular mammograms and more importantly, to self-examine yourself as often as you can. At Regency Medical Center we make sure that every female patient we get is taught the nuances of self-examination. When the cost is cancer, prevention is always better than a cure.