Are You at Risk for Breast Cancer?
With a breast cancer diagnosis occurring every two minutes in the United States alone, both women and men are becoming increasingly educated about the disease’s signs and symptoms. Many risk factors including age, medical history and genetics can increase your risk for developing breast cancer. Here’s a breakdown of just some of the breast cancer risk factors we most commonly see among patients at Regional Cancer Care Associates.
Inarguably one of the most serious breast cancer risk factors, advanced age is something most patients have in common. While it’s rarer for women and men younger than age 40 to develop breast cancer, the prevalence becomes increasingly widespread among patients older than age 40.
In the United States, the median age of first-time breast cancer diagnoses is 62 for women and 67 for men, but people older than age 70 are at the highest risk. That’s why it’s so vital to schedule regular mammograms, especially if you’re past age 40.
For some patients with breast cancer, genetics play a role in disease development. Individuals with a family history of breast cancer in immediate family members, such as a parent, sibling or child, may be at increased risk themselves. Inherited genetic mutations, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, are also common risk factors.
One’s personal medical history may uncover additional breast cancer risk factors. For instance, a woman who started menstruating before age 12 or began menopause after age 55 has had prolonged exposure to hormones and thus faces an elevated risk of breast cancer. In both men and women, a previous breast cancer diagnosis makes a patient more likely to develop the disease again.
Research has shown that certain medications can pose a higher risk for breast cancer. The most commonly used medications associated with breast cancer are contraceptives, which are believed to heighten a woman’s risk by 20 to 30 percent. An increased risk has also been linked to diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was commonly taken by pregnant women from 1940 to 1971 to prevent miscarriage. The children of women who took DES are also at an elevated risk.
While it’s common for post-menopausal women to undergo hormone replacement therapy, it also raises their risk for developing breast cancer. This is especially true when some forms of this therapy, including estrogen and progesterone, are taken for five years or longer.
Attention to lifestyle, particularly diet and exercise, can lower breast cancer risk. By contrast, lack of regular exercise and obesity in adulthood are associated with a higher risk. Also, the consumption of two or more alcoholic beverages per day is directly linked to increased breast cancer risk in women.
Dense Connective Tissue
Some women are more at risk than others simply because of the composition of their breasts. Those with a higher density of connective tissue and less fatty tissue are more likely to develop breast cancer. This is because dense connective tissue can make it more difficult for tumors to be detected from a mammogram image.
Being pregnant is not a known breast cancer risk factor, but getting pregnant at an early age or after turning 30 may increase your risk for breast cancer. Women who were never pregnant also face a heightened risk.
Learn More About Your Risk Factors
Some risk factors are out of your control, while others can be addressed by changes in lifestyle. Either way, being aware of these breast cancer risk factors and knowing whether they apply to you can greatly increase your chances of detecting breast cancer early should you develop it. At Regional Cancer Care Associates, we help patients navigate through their risk level by analyzing their family history and ordering genetic testing if necessary. For more information, contact us today.