October is national breast cancer awareness month. Except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women. While many cases of breast cancer are caused by family history or genetics, a significant percentage of cases are caused by risk factors that can be reduced.
Having risk factors for cancer doesn't mean you’ll necessarily develop cancer. However, having certain risk factors can increase the likelihood that you’ll develop cancer. In this blog, Darin L. Weyhrich, MD, explains more about the risk factors for breast cancer and how you can reduce your risk.
Nonmodifiable risk factors
Some risk factors for breast cancer can’t be significantly modified, so we’ll mention those first.
You may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer if you have any of the following:
- First-degree relatives who had breast cancer; this risk is increased if their cancer occurred before menopause or if multiple relatives had cancer
- Male relatives who had breast cancer
- Certain genetic variations
- Early exposure to radiation, such as in treatment for lymphoma
- Early menstruation or late menopause
- Dense breast tissue
Your risk of developing breast cancer also increases with age, particularly after age 55. Furthermore, your chances are higher if you’re a caucasian woman or of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
Manageable risk factors
Many of the risk factors for breast cancer are ones that you can control. In fact, many of the risk factors for breast cancer come down to lifestyle choices. Some of the most common lifestyle choices that can increase your risk of developing breast cancer include the following:
- Eating a poor diet
- Lack of physical exercise
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Having your first child after age 35 or not having a child at all
- Being overweight or obese, especially around your abdomen
Things that aren’t risk factors
There are many myths regarding risk factors for breast cancer. Some things that people believe are risk factors aren’t risk factors at all, such as the following:
- Having fibrocystic breasts
- Consuming coffee or caffeine
- Using of antiperspirants
- Having multiple pregnancies
- Having miscarriages or abortions
- Using hair dye
- Having breast implants
It’s especially important to keep up with regular mammograms and monthly breast self-exams, whether or not you’re at an increased risk. These screenings are your best defense against breast cancer because cancerous changes are more treatable when they’re detected early.
If you’re at risk of developing breast cancer, it’s important to work on modifying the risks that you can change. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and avoiding smoking can help you prevent several types of cancer, including breast cancer.
If you would like to talk about your breast cancer risk or get a mammogram, book an appointment over the phone with the office of Darin L. Weyhrich, MD, today.