Breast Cancer Risk Factors
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Video: Genetics & CancerDr. Ritwick Panicker explains that, although rare, cancer can be hereditary. He identifies some types of cancer that can be inherited, available genetic tests, and in which cases genetic testing for cancer may be helpful.
Genetics & Breast Cancer
Dr. Ritwick Panicker explains that, although rare, breast cancer can be hereditary. He discusses available genetic tests, and in which cases genetic testing for cancer may be helpful.
Breast cancer currently afflicts over 190,000 women annually. Yet, according to the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of breast cancer in the United States has decreased by about two percent from 1999 to 2006.
The reason for the decrease is not completely understood. However, knowing the breast cancer risk factors may help you take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Some common risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Gender – Although nearly 2,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year, breast cancer is 100 times more common in women. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 190,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer annually.
- Aging – On average, women over 60 are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Only about 10 to 15 percent of breast cancers occur in women younger than 45. However, this may vary for different races or ethnicities.
- Obesity – After menopause, fat tissue may contribute to increases in estrogen levels, and high levels of estrogen may increase the risk of breast cancer. Weight gain during adulthood and excess body fat around the waist may also play a role.
- Inherited Factors – Some inherited genetic mutations may increase your breast cancer risks. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common inherited causes. Other rare mutations may also make some women more susceptible to developing breast cancer. Gene testing reveals the presence of potential genetic problems, particularly in families that have a history of breast cancer.
- Family History – Having a family history of breast cancer, particularly women with a mother, sister or daughter who has or had breast cancer, may double the risk.
- Not Having Children – Women who have had no children, or who were pregnant later in life (over age 35) may have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Breast-feeding may help to lower your breast cancer risks.
Other Risk Factors
Other factors that may affect your risk of developing breast cancer include:
- Having abnormal breast cells (found by looking through a microscope)
- High breast density
- Certain breast changes
- Using oral contraceptives within the past 10 years
- Starting menstruation at an early age (before age 12) and/or menopause at an older age (after age 55)
- Combined post-menopausal hormone therapy (PHT)
- Maintaining a sedentary lifestyle
- Heavy drinking
- Radiation exposure
- Previous use of DES (a drug commonly given to pregnant women from 1940 to 1971)
NOTE: Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a breast cancer risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.
Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer
There are several ways you can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer:
- Exercise – An inactive lifestyle may increase the risk of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends 45 to 60 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week.
- Maintain a Healthy Diet and Weight – Some studies have found that high-fat diets may increase breast cancer risk; yet, the results are inconclusive. The current recommendations, however, suggest that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some cancers, including breast cancer.
- Limit Alcohol Intake – Heavy drinking is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Get Regular Screening Tests – Your doctor may recommend regular self breast exams and mammograms, particularly after age 40, to detect early signs of breast cancer.
- Talk With Your Doctor – When you work together with your doctor, you can better manage your breast cancer risk factors and receive the right kind of care when needed. Your doctor can tell you more about the recommended screening guidelines and help you decide what is best for you.
Managing your lifestyle and personal health care enables you to take control of your risk for breast cancer. Taking preventative steps may also increase the likelihood of early detection.
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