October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which serves to educate people about the symptoms and risk factors associated with breast cancer. These risk factors are not necessarily a concrete indicator of someone’s future health— some women with no risk factors may still develop breast cancer, while others with several of the risk factors may not.
That said, these risk factors are the best criteria we have for assessing a person’s chance of developing breast cancer. That’s why it’s important to understand your personal risk factors, manage the ones you can control, and schedule regular mammograms to monitor your health.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Being a Woman
Being female is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer. However, no matter their sex, everyone has breast tissue. Men can develop breast cancer, too, though 99% of cases in the United States are diagnosed in women.
As with most diseases, increasing age comes with an increased risk for breast cancer. As our bodies get older, our chance of cellular mutations is heightened, and our body’s ability to effectively repair the damage decreases.
Age is the second biggest risk factor for breast cancer. For those 30 years old, 1 in 227 will likely develop breast cancer. For those 60 years old, that risk increases to 1 in 28.
Having Dense Breast Tissue
Women with dense breasts are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. The dense tissue can also make it harder for mammograms to detect the cancer.
Having Family or Personal History of Breast Cancer
If you have relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk increases, especially if they’re immediate relatives, like a parent, child, or sibling. Likewise, if you’ve already had breast cancer in one breast, you have a higher chance of developing it in the other.
Being Overweight Post-Menopause
When compared to women who are a healthy weight, being overweight after menopause increases the chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Fat cells create estrogen, and increased estrogen stimulates cell growth in breast tissue. The more your cells are growing and dividing, the higher the chance of that cancerous cells will form.
Losing weight tends to be harder the older you are, but lowering your BMI may decrease your risk of breast cancer. Research also links regular exercise and healthy easting with a decreased risk of cancer.
Other Risk Factors of Breast Cancer
- Heavy alcohol usage
- Smoking or frequent exposure to second-hand smoke
- Taking some forms of hormone replacement therapy
- Taking some forms of birth control pills
- Never having a full-term pregnancy
- Having the first pregnancy after 30
- Not breastfeeding
- Having silicone breast implants
Managing Your Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Some of these risk factors are fixed—your genetics and health history cannot be changed. As for the factors that can be changed, talk to your doctor to develop a strategy to lower your risk. Depending on your personal risk factors, this may include increasing your regular exercise, changing your medication routine, quitting smoking, and limiting your alcohol consumption. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, your doctor may suggest genetic counseling, medication, or preventative surgery.
With seven locations across Oakland County, MI, Women’s Excellence specializes in helping women maintain their breast health. If you’ve noticed any abnormal changes in your breasts or would like to discuss your breast cancer risk factors, request an appointment with one of our specialists today.