That one word is the cause of more fear than just about anything else in the world.
And breast cancer is the most common cancer of all — followed by lung cancer and prostate cancer.
Will you be one of the more than 266,000 people who hear a diagnosis of breast cancer this year?
Would you like to know what you can (and can’t do) to lower your chances?
Cancer risk factors you can do something about
Everything on this list isn’t for everyone. You don’t have to do them all … but it may be helpful to know about them all. If not for you, perhaps for a friend.
Have a baby!
Mothers have less risk of developing breast cancer than women who are childless. That’s because the cells in a woman’s breasts aren’t fully mature until her first child is born. Those immature breast cells are more susceptible to cancer.
Experience the joy of breastfeeding
For women who do have children, breastfeeding is a good idea. Aside from being really healthy for the baby, nursing a child has also been linked to lower chances of breast cancer. Breastfeeding for more than six months provides even more protection.
Watch your weight
Women who are overweight have a lower rate of breast cancer before menopause, but a higher rate afterwards. Once estrogen production in the ovaries shuts down, the main source of estrogen in a woman’s body is fat cells — and that change in the source and amount of estrogen in a woman’s body leads to a higher risk for breast cancer.
Don’t drink alcohol
For every drink of alcohol you take each day, your relative risk of breast cancer increases by seven percent. That means a woman who has two glasses of wine each night before bed boosts her breast cancer risks by 14 percent. Three glasses … 21 percent … and so on. Alcohol can change the way your body metabolizes estrogen.
Lung cancer isn’t the only health concern for smokers. Cigar and cigarette smoke are considered general carcinogens. They’re a major risk factor for 14 different kinds of cancer — including breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk factors beyond your control – and why it still matters to know about them
Even though we can’t change these risk factors, it still helps to be aware of them and maybe change some of our habits accordingly to address the factors we CAN control.
Breast cancer is 100 times more prevalent in women than in men.
Women should get regular breast exams, perform self-checks often, and follow their doctor’s recommendations for the frequency of mammograms.
As with gender, you can’t avoid getting older. To mitigate and lower the risk, follow your doctor’s recommendations and start doing those things you KNEW you should be doing 40 years ago.
Breast cancer cannot be directly inherited, but having family members with a history of breast cancer increases the risk. Having a mother, sister, or aunt with the disease may increase chances twofold.
Recent buzz concerns mutations to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. They are associated with increased probabilities (up to 10 percent) of breast and ovarian cancer.
Health history matters
A previous history of cancer and other breast-related conditions may increase your chances of getting it. Women who have had invasive breast cancer in one breast have a higher chance of developing it in the other.
Other, non-invasive conditions which increase risk include atypical ductal hyperplasia, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS).
Benign conditions may also increase your risk for breast cancer. Non-cancerous lumps and other changes in breast tissue may be a precursor to actual cancer.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors: The Bottom Line
We’ve come a long way towards the early diagnosis and successful treatment of breast cancer, but there’s much work yet to do.
Don’t wait for science to discover a cure.
Do what YOU can do to protect yourself … and start now.
Eat for health. Get regular exercise. Learn to relax. And remember to get checkups on the schedule your physician recommends.
Doctor Higgins loves to work with new patients … but he’d much rather see them in the consultation room than in the operating room.
References and Resources
Please Note: The articles on Dr. Andy Higgins’ website are obtained from a variety of sources. While they pertain to the treatment of breast cancer, colon cancer, and other maladies, their presence here is not to help diagnose or treat any disease, but to stimulate conversation about health-related issues. All articles are cleared by an editor, but not necessarily by Doctor Higgins himself.