Breast Cancer Risk Factors

by Ashley Horne

Pink! It’s all around us helping to promote breast cancer awareness. Did you realize that October was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month? If not, that’s okay, but I’d like to take the time to review some of the risk factors of this disease to make sure you are up to speed.

Pink White House

Risk Factors:

Age – The risk of getting breast cancer increases with age; therefore, the older you are the higher your risk of cancer becomes. Though a person of any age can get breast cancer, it is less likely in younger men and women. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the younger you are when breast cancer is developed the more aggressive the cancer tends to be.

Gender – Both men and women can develop breast cancer, but men are far less likely (1.08 out of 100,000). Typically, the prognosis is worse in male cases than female.

Race – Caucasian women are diagnosed more frequently with breast cancer than Latina, Asian, or African American women.

Heredity – Breast cancer can be passed along as a familial trait, but only 5% of cases show a strong familial risk. This applies to those individuals who harbor a mutation of genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. These individuals have a 60 – 80% chance of developing breast cancer. Other genes have also been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer including RAB11FIP1, TP53, PTEN and rs4973768. A lower risk of breast cancer is associated with rs6504950.

Alcohol – Studies have shown that alcohol may have an impact on breast cancer development as well. Women who consume 2 alcoholic drinks per day are 8% more likely to develop the cancer than those who consume only 1 drink per day. There is some speculation as to the reason for this. This includes an increase to estrogen and androgen levels, enhanced mammary gland susceptibility to carcinogenesis, increased mammary DNA damage and greater metastatic potential of breast cancer cells.

Diet – Diet may play a role in the development of breast cancer. For instance, some studies have shown that those following a low-fat diet substantially decrease the risk of developing breast cancer and reduce the risk of re-occurrence. One study published in 2009 has show that moderate green or black tea consumption (three or more cups per day) can reduce breast cancer risk by 37% in women younger than 50 years old, comparing with women who drank no tea at all. Though this evidence is inconclusive, it would be a small change to your diet to reap great benefits. Other dietary risk factors which may impact breast cancer development or risk reduction including Omega-6 fatty acid, phytoestrogens, Vitamin D, and Brassica vegetable and mushroom consumption, and possibly country diet.

Obesity – An increase in weight after menopause seems to increase the risk of breast cancer. A recent study claims that a weight gain of twenty-two pounds after menopause can increase the risk of breast cancer by as much as 18%.

Hormones – Consistently increased levels of estrogen, androgens and insulin are linked to higher levels of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer may also be associated with child birth. It is thought that young mothers have a reduced risk when compared to mothers who deliver for the first time after age thirty. Also, woman who bear children are less likely to develop breast cancer than those who bear no children at all.

Environmental factors – A variety of environmental factors which may contribute to breast cancer include, but are not limited to, pollutants, pesticides, chemical products of combustion (ex. cigarette smoke), additives to food (ex. Red No.3) or personal care products (ex. Ethylene oxide), tobacco use and exposure to high levels of radiation.

Of course, there are women who do not possess any of these risk factors and still develop breast cancer. That is why it is so important to get a mammogram yearly and do self breast exams monthly. Taking action may be scary, but when caught early breast cancer can be treated much more efficiently!

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