Breast cancer is the one of the most common and dangerous types of cancer for women. Before the end of 2020, more than 325,000 new cases of breast cancer are likely to be diagnosed in U.S. women. Understanding risk factors is important to either helping prevent breast cancer or to guide women in seeking early diagnosis and treatment.
Women face two main types of breast cancer risks: those they can control, and those they can’t. But, it’s important to keep in mind that presence of a risk doesn’t automatically mean cancer will develop. For example, just being a woman and aging are the primary risk factors associated with breast cancer that are beyond anyone’s control. So, women should seek regular screening and medical advice from health care providers to improve their chances of getting early diagnosis and treatment—which is when it matters most.
Risk Factors Beyond Your Control
Some risk factors are naturally occurring and cannot be prevented:
Risk Factors Within Your Control
- Genetic mutations: Genetic compositions containing mutation of genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 make a woman more susceptible to ovarian and breast cancer.
- Age: Women above 50 years of age are more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Reproductive hormones: Menstrual cycles beginning as early as age 12 and delayed menopause after age 55 expose women to reproductive hormones longer.
- Breast density: Fatty breasts make mammogram screening easier, whereas dense breasts contain networks of veins that make mammogram screening more difficult.
- Prior cancer: Past cancer treatment often leaves cancerous cells lying in situ, which increases the chance or recurring cancer.
- Family history (genealogy) of ovarian cancer: A family history that includes ovarian cancer increases chances of developing cancer.
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma: Treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma involves radiation on the chest areas, increasing the likelihood of breast cancer development.
- Consumption of DES (diethylstilbestrol) drug: In the 1980s, DES was a supplement taken during pregnancy to prevent miscarriages. It has been tied to a considerable number of breast cancer cases.
Lifestyle choices may also heighten or reduce risk for breast cancer:
- Hormones and birth control: Pharma estrogen and progesterone hormones, and certain birth control pills, may increase cancer chances.
- Obesity, coupled with menopause: Overweight menopausal women have a greater likelihood of developing breast cancer than women at a healthy weight.
- Late-in-life pregnancy and irregular feeding schedules: Pregnancies in 30-year-old-plus women combined with irregular breastfeeding routines increase cancer risk.
With breast cancer still a widespread and significant health threat to women, knowing about and understanding risk factors is important. Choices and behavior change are key to reducing risks that are within your control. For risks that are beyond your control, it’s important to be vigilant of signs and symptoms, and ensure you and your health care provider forge a partnership leading to early detection and treatment if needed.