Do you know your personal risk for breast cancer? Would you know how to find it out or reduce it? This post and video (below) help you understand risk factors for breast cancer and provides information that can help you have a more informed discussion with your doctor.
Even though breast cancer death rates decreased by 39 percent between 1989 and 2015, it is estimated that 40,610 women will die of breast cancer by the end of this year. It is rare to find a person whose life has not been affected, directly or indirectly, by this devastating disease.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but all year, every year, it’s important for women and the people who love them to be aware of breast cancer risk factors and what you can do lower your risk for breast cancer.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
It's important to keep in mind that the presence of risk factors is not a guarantee that you will get cancer, just as the complete absence of them is not a guarantee that you won't.
Mayo Clinic says, "It's likely that breast cancer is caused by a complex interaction of your genetic makeup and your environment." However, research shows that certain characteristics and behaviors do increase your risk of developing breast cancer. These risk factors include:
- Sex: Though men can and do get breast cancer, the disease is 100 times more common in women. Still, about 460 men will die from it this year.
- Race: "The breast cancer death rate during 2011 through 2015 was 42 percent higher in black women than in white women."
- Family History: According to Mayo Clinic, "Doctors estimate that about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to gene mutations passed through generations...."
- Age: Older women are more likely than younger women to develop breast cancer. About 80 percent of new cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 50.
- Obesity: Being excessively overweight increases your risk of the disease.
- Late or No Pregnancies: Women who have their first child after age 30 are more likely to get breast cancer, as are women who have never been pregnant.
- Alcohol Use: Excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk.
It's important to talk to your doctor about your risk factors to determine how often you should have breast cancer screenings.
How to Lower Your Risk for Breast Cancer
Though there is no way to ensure you won't develop breast cancer or any other type of cancer, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk factors and live a healthier life overall.
- Limit Alcohol Intake: "The American Cancer Society recommends limiting alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men" since more than that has been shown to elevate cancer risk.
- Stop Smoking: Research shows a link between smoking and breast cancer, particularly when the women start smoking at a young age.
- Stay Active and Maintain a Healthy Weight: An active lifestyle and a healthy weight can reduce your risk of cancer as well as many other diseases.
- Limit Hormone Therapy: Since "combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer," Mayo Clinic suggests talking with your doctor about other options if you're using the therapy to manage the symptoms of menopause.
Although this is in the realm of detection, not prevention, regular tests and screenings can help you catch cancer earlier so you can start treatment as soon as possible. This makes screening an important part of your plan for your health.
What Is Your Risk for Breast Cancer?
Of course, it is best to talk with your doctor about your risk factors; however, before you go, you can visit Assess Your Risk. You will answer a few questions about your age, medical history, family history, and habits, and you can have your results emailed to you for review. It might remind you of a few things you need to tell your doctor, too.
Understanding your risks and confronting the disease head-on is the only way to stand up to it. Do what you can to prevent breast cancer by leading a healthier lifestyle and having the tests that can provide the earliest possible detection. In this way, along with advances in detection and treatment, we may continue to lower the impact of breast cancer.