Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in American women, with the exception of skin cancer. While some risk factors can be eliminated through changes in lifestyle, others are not so easy to overcome. Understanding your risk for developing breast cancer is essential for early detection and diagnosis.
There is no known cause of breast cancer. However, we do know that there are certain risk factors that are linked to this disease. Simply having one or more of these factors does not mean that you will develop breast cancer. Understanding your risks can empower you to make lifestyle changes and become vigilant about administering self breast exams and scheduling your routine mammogram.
Gender and age play a big role in determining your risk for breast cancer. Women are much more likely to develop this disease than men. In fact, only about 1% of all diagnosed cases involve men. Breast cancer is most commonly found in women ages 55 and over. Routine screening becomes even more important as we age.
If you have a mother, sister, or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you are at a higher risk for developing this disease as well. However, it is important to keep in mind that a large percentage of women who are diagnosed, have no family history of breast cancer. Researchers have found that a familial mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can not only put you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, but other cancers as well.
Breast cancer is found more often in women who have had no children or did not have their first child until after the age of 30, than those who birthed children at a younger age. If you began menstruation before the age of 12 or experienced menopause after the age of 55, you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer.
We all know that being overweight is unhealthy. Those women with a Body Mass Index (BMI) higher than 25 are at a higher risk for breast cancer than those women who maintain a lower BMI, especially after menopause. Extra fat cells, especially those around the waist, mean more estrogen in the body, which may help cancer cells grow. Losing weight and exercising can be difficult but it is essential to maintain a healthy weight throughout your lifetime.
Eating a healthy diet will not only help you manage your weight, but may also boost your immune system and help to keep your risk of cancer as low as possible. Incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Try to limit your fat intake and make healthy choices when eating out. While more research is needed, studies suggest that what we eat and how much we eat may affect our chances of developing breast cancer.
If you are a smoker or drink more than one alcoholic beverage a day, you should stop. Smoking and drinking in excess are linked to many types of cancer. Ask your physician or visit the FirstQuit link on the FirstHealth of the Carolinas website for valuable information and tips on quitting smoking.
If you are concerned about any of these risk factors, talk with your physician. He or she may make recommendations for early diagnostic screenings or assist you with implementing lifestyle changes. With new treatments and early diagnosis, we are better able to find and treat breast cancer so that women have an increased chance for a complete recovery.