Breast cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women in the U.S. Though better treatments and early detection methods such as mammography have helped reduce breast cancer deaths, the disease still kills more women in the U.S. than any other type of cancer except lung cancer.
Beyond creating an early detection plan, you may be wondering if there's anything else you can do to protect yourself from the disease. Though there is no definitive way to prevent breast cancer, researchers believe there are certain factors that may influence your risk. Knowing these factors may help you decrease your risk for breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk factors
A cancer risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing cancer. You can control some breast cancer risk factors, but others can't be controlled. Breast cancer risk factors you can
- being obese
- drinking alcohol – the more you drink, the higher the risk.
- taking combination hormone therapy for menopause – combination hormone replacement therapy increases risk to a small degree. As for any medication, a consideration of risks and benefits of the medication is important.
- using birth control pills or shots – there is a small increased risk when currently taking hormonal birth control. Again risks and benefits should be considered.
Other breast cancer risk factors that can't
be controlled include:
- being of advanced age
- being a white female
- having a personal or family history of breast cancer
- having a personal history of noncancerous breast disease
- being born with certain genetic mutations
- having dense breasts
- starting your period before age 12
- going through menopause after age 55
- previous radiation therapy to the chest
Breast cancer protective factors
A cancer protective factor is anything that decreases your chance of developing cancer. Breast cancer protective factors include:
- exercising four or more hours per week
- having many children or becoming pregnant before age 30
Mastectomy, ovarian ablation and certain medicines that affect estrogen are also protective factors for women who are at high risk for breast cancer due to factors they can't control, such as genetics or family history.
It's important to remember that the effect of these factors is variable. Some women have one or more risk factors but never develop breast cancer. Others develop the disease even though they had no known risk factors. It is important to understand that all women are at risk for breast cancer even if they have no risk factors for the disease.
In general, you can lower your risk for any type of cancer by living a healthy lifestyle. Eat a nutritious diet, get enough exercise, don't smoke or abuse drugs, and avoid or limit alcohol.
Learn about breast cancer care at The Christ Hospital.