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The AnMed Health Blog hosts information about different service line offerings and system wide happenings. This is a place to share a spotlight on our staff and the medical services offered to our patients. We hope you take the time to read and learn more about the AnMed Health family.

What are Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?

While it’s impossible to prevent breast cancer, it’s important to understand your level of risk. By understanding the risk factors that we can change – such as exercise and alcohol consumption – we can learn to adapt our lifestyle to lower our risk for breast cancer. And by understanding the risk factors that we cannot change – such as cancer history and genetic factors – we can have informed conversations with our doctors about screening recommendations and medical interventions.

Risk factors for breast cancer you can control

Maintain a healthy weight

Women who have a body mass index that is more than 25 – especially after menopause – have an increased risk for breast cancer. That’s because increased fat tissue can lead to an increase in estrogen and insulin levels, which have an association with breast cancer. But a BMI is only one tool, however, and you may want to assess your weight more accurately by incorporating other factors, such as waist circumference or a DEXA scan that can evaluate body fat and muscle mass.

If you are overweight or obese and would like to lose weight, losing just 5% to 10% of your weight can lead to substantial health benefits.

Be physically active

Regular exercise reduces your risk of breast cancer. The connection between exercise and breast cancer is unclear; some people believe that it can lower estrogen and insulin levels (which can lead to breast cancer) and other people believe that it’s linked to a healthy weight. Either way, it’s important to exercise: Whether you have a family history or breast cancer or not, you can reduce your risk for breast cancer with just 2.7 hours per week of moderate exercise.

Limit alcohol intake

Drinking beer, wine or liquor can increase your risk of breast cancer. Alcohol can damage DNA in cells and increase estrogen levels, both of which can lead to breast cancer. Women who consume three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% greater risk for breast cancer compared to women who don’t drink at all.

Avoid or minimize hormone therapy

Women who use, or who have used, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who did not. This is much more pronounced in women who used combination HRT, which contains estrogen and progesterone, which increases breast cancer risk by about 75%. For women on estrogen-only HRT, the risk of breast cancer only increases when the HRT was used for more than 10 years.

While many people believe that the birth control pill can also increase your risk for breast cancer, studies are not conclusive. Some studies that showed a clear link between the pill and breast cancer were old enough that the birth control pills studied contained much higher levels of hormones than are found in today’s pills. Most doctors believe that the benefits of the birth control pill outweigh the unproven link to a higher risk of breast cancer.

Risks factors for breast cancer beyond our control

Being a woman

Although men can get breast cancer, fewer than 1% of breast cancer diagnoses go to men. Of the 266,120 new diagnoses of breast cancer last year, only 2,550 happened to men. This is because most men’s breasts tend to be made of fat, while women’s breasts have fully formed glands with more active cells. This means that women’s breasts are more susceptible to hormonal changes and disruptions that can lead to cancer.

Genetics

Breast cancer cases with a hereditary component make up about 5% to 10% of all breast cancer cases.

BRCA genes are two types of genes that, when functioning normally, can prevent cancer cells from forming or dividing quickly. When they have a mutation, however, they can lead to an increased risk for breast cancer. About one in every 500 American women has a mutation in their BRCA genes. For women who do have a BRCA mutation, about 50% of them will get a breast cancer diagnosis by the time they’re 70 years old. Meanwhile in the overall population, only 7 of every 100 American women will get a breast cancer diagnosis by that time.

If you have a family history of breast cancer or if you have a known BRCA gene mutation, talk with your doctor about screening recommendations or even medicines or surgeries that can reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Age

Most breast cancer diagnoses occur to women who are older than 50. For women in their 30s, the risk of breast cancer is 1 in 228; in their 60s, however, that risk increases to 1 in 29.

History of cancer

If you’ve already had breast cancer, you have a higher risk of developing it again, either in the same breast or the other. In addition, if you’ve had radiation therapy to your chest during your childhood or teen years for another type of cancer, you also have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Dense breasts

About half of women who’ve gotten mammograms have dense breasts, which means they have a higher amount of glandular tissue and fibrous connective tissue with less fatty tissue. Not only do dense breasts have a greater chance of developing cancer, they can also cause hard-to-read mammograms. Currently, researchers are studying whether women who have dense breasts should undergo additional screening; in the meantime, however, talk with your doctor about how the density of your breasts may affect your risk and mammogram results.

Breast cancer care

AnMed Health offers breast cancer care – including radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormonal therapy and surgery – in a state-of-the-art cancer hospital that has earned Accreditation with Commendation from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons – which only one in four cancer hospitals has earned. In addition to a wide variety of diagnostic and treatment options, AnMed Health also participates in hundreds of clinical trials that connect patients with some of the latest in cancer treatment options.

To learn more about getting a mammogram, please visit AnMedHealth.org/Pink.



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