Weighing the risk of breast cancer... where do you stand?
Risks expose you to danger, harm or loss. Knowing your risks of breast cancer helps as you become more aware of the causing factors and more able to offset them. Yet this doesn not mean that when having a risk factor, or even many, you are sure to get bre
Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as being female (men can have breast cancer too, but it is less common) and advancing age, which is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer. Others include a family or personal history of breast cancer, having certain changes in genes, early menstruation, late menopause and certain hormone therapies. Increased breast density (detected only on mammograms), is also associated with an increased risk. Other risk factors can be modified to reduce your risk of breast cancer, such as cancer-causing factors related to the environment or personal choices. Chest exposure to radiation (which has the highest effect during breast development) and lifestyle are such examples.
Twenty-one per cent of all breast cancer deaths worldwide are attributable to being overweight and obesity (mostly), alcohol use, and physical inactivity. There is some evidence that smoking increases the risk of breast cancer too.
Obesity is associated with increased breast cancer risk, especially among postmenopausal women. Alcohol intake is widely recognized as one of the behaviours most consistently associated with increased breast cancer risk. It is clearly demonstrated that there is an increased risk, with increasing intake, and a modest increased risk suggested at even low levels of alcohol intake. Regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, poultry, fish and low fat dairy products are recommended for all women because they can help prevent many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and many forms of cancer. A high vegetable intake, and high levels of vitamin C and certain carotenoids may also lower the risk of breast cancer (carotenoids are found in deeply coloured plant foods).
Physical activity is protective against breast cancer. Numerous studies have shown consistently that moderate to vigorous physical activity is associated with a decreased breast cancer risk amongst both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Moderate activity is anything that makes you breathe as hard as you do during a brisk walk. During moderate activities, you will notice a slight increase in heart rate and breathing. You should be able to talk, but not sing during the activity!
There is strong evidence that breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk. In addition the earlier a woman has a child, the lower the risk of breast cancer is.
Screening by mammography is a very effective way of detecting breast cancer in its early stages, thus improving outcome. If you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, speak to your family doctor for further advice. There is support and care available to reduce your risk further.