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Understanding the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Posted by David Cheatham, October 12, 2021

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time to remind every woman of the importance of early screenings and diagnosis. Yes, every woman should seek regular preventive care and screenings for breast cancer; however, some are more susceptible than others. You should learn your own risk factors and talk to your doctor about how to detect breast cancer early, while it is more easily treatable.

If any of these circumstances apply to you, you might face increased odds of developing breast cancer as some point during your lifetime:

    • You regularly drink alcohol; two or more drinks per day raises your risk of cancer by 20 percent
    • You smoke cigarettes
    • You are overweight or obese
    • You live a sedentary lifestyle (no or very little exercise)
    • You never had children, or had your first child past age 30
    • You’ve never breastfed
    • You’ve used hormonal birth control in the past
    • You’ve used hormone therapy past menopause, especially for an extended period
    • You have breast implants, which have been linked to one rare form of breast cancer
    • You have a family history of breast cancer
    • You have dense breast tissue
    • You’ve previously had other health conditions associated with your breasts
    • You’re on the taller side (although we don’t know why this raises risk)
    • You started your periods before age 12
    • You went through menopause after age 55
    • You’ve previously experienced radiation to the chest, for another condition
    • You were previously exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES)
    • You’re over age 55

Some of these risk factors are only slight, or are unclearly defined by research, so there is no need to panic if one or more applies to you. Indeed, almost every woman can identify with at least one item on the list above. But if you have several risk factors, talk with your doctor about preventive screenings and steps that you can take to reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Genetic testing can help to determine if you carry certain genes that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer. While there’s nothing you can do to change your genetic makeup, being aware of this risk can help you to make other decisions around your healthcare and lifestyle.

And finally, learn how to perform breast self-exams at home. These exams can be the best way to detect very early signs of breast cancer and bring them to your doctor’s attention.

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