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Risk Factors For Breast Cancer

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease.
Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get the disease, while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors.

Gender
Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. Women have many more breast cells and they are constantly exposed to the growth-promoting effects of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Hypothyroidism
Eur J Cancer Prev. 1996 Dec;5(6):504-6.
Thyroid disorders and breast cancer.
Shering SG, Zbar AP, Moriarty M, McDermott EW, O'Higgins NJ, Smyth PP.
Source Department of Surgery, St Vincent's Hospital, University College Dublin, Ireland.

Abstract
"... non-toxic goitre was more than twice as common in the breast carcinoma patients. Thyroid volumes were also significantly higher in breast carcinoma patients than in controls; using World Health Organisation criteria, 45.5% of breast carcinoma patients had thyroid enlargement compared with only 10.5% of controls.

Hypothyroidism

Finally, antithyroid peroxidase autoantibodies were twice as common in breast cancer patients than in controls. These findings provide clear evidence of a relationship between thyroid disease and breast carcinoma, although the mechanisms underlying this relationship require further study, future studies of breast cancer risk factors should therefore include assessment of thyroid function, antibody status and volume.
PMID: 9061284 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] "

Aging
Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older.

Genetic Risk Factors
About 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, resulting directly from gene changes (called mutations) inherited from a parent. The most common inherited mutations are those of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Women with an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have up to an 80% chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetime, and when they do it is often at a younger age than in women who are not born with one of these gene mutations. Women with these inherited mutations also have an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer. Although BRCA mutations are found most often in Jewish women of Ashkenazi (Eastern Europe) origin, they are also seen in African-American women and Hispanic women and can occur in any racial or ethnic group.

Genetic testing: If you are considering genetic testing, it is strongly recommended that you talk first to a genetic counselor, nurse, or doctor qualified to explain and interpret the results of these tests.

Family History of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease.
Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman's risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk about 5-fold. Although the exact risk is not known, women with a family history of breast cancer in a father or brother also have an increased risk of breast cancer. Altogether, about 20% to 30% of women with breast cancer have a family member with this disease. (It's important to note this means that 70% to 80% of women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of this disease.)

Personal History of Breast Cancer
A woman with cancer in one breast has a 3- to 4-fold increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different from a recurrence (return) of the first cancer.

Race
White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than are African-American women. African-American women are more likely to die of this cancer. At least part of this seems to be because African-American women tend to have more aggressive tumors, although why this is the case is not known. Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women have a lower risk of developing and dying from breast cancer.

Abnormal Breast Biopsy Results
Some types of benign breast conditions are more closely linked to breast cancer risk than others.
The non-proliferative lesions (those not associated with any overgrowth of breast tissue) do not seem to affect breast cancer risk, or if they do at all it is to a very small extent. They include:

The proliferative lesions without atypia (those with excessive growth of cells in the ducts or lobules of the breast tissue) seem to raise a woman's risk of breast cancer slightly (1½ to 2 times normal). They include:

The proliferative lesions with atypia (those with excessive growth of cells in the ducts or lobules of the breast tissue, and in which the cells no longer appear normal) have a stronger effect on breast cancer risk, raising it 4 to 5 times higher than normal. They include:

Women with a family history of breast cancer and either hyperplasia or atypical hyperplasia have an even higher risk of developing a breast cancer.

Menstrual Periods
Women who started menstruating at an early age (before age 12) or who went through menopause at a late age (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. This may be related to a higher lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Previous Chest Radiation
Women who, as children or young adults, had radiation therapy to the chest area as treatment for another cancer (such as Hodgkin disease or non-Hodgkin lymphoma) are at significantly increased risk for breast cancer. This varies with the age of the patient at the time of radiation. If chemotherapy was also given, the risk may be lowered if the chemotherapy stopped ovarian hormone production. The risk of developing breast cancer appears to be highest if the breast was still in development (during adolescence) when the radiation was given.

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) Exposure
From the 1940s through the 1960s some pregnant women were given diethylstilbestrol because it was thought to lower their chances of losing the baby (miscarriage). Studies have shown that these women have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Not Having Children, or Having Them Later in Life
Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk. Having multiple pregnancies and becoming pregnant at an early age reduces breast cancer risk.

Oral Contraceptive Use
It is still not clear what part oral contraceptives (birth control pills) might play in breast cancer risk. Studies have suggested that women now using oral contraceptives have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them.

Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy (PHT)
Postmenopausal hormone therapy, also known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), has been used for many years to help relieve symptoms of menopause and to help prevent osteoporosis (thinning of the bones).
There are 2 main types of PHT. For women who still have a uterus (womb), doctors generally prescribe estrogen and progesterone (known as combined PHT). Because estrogen alone can increase the risk of developing cancer of the uterus, progesterone is added to help prevent this. For women who no longer have a uterus (those who've had a hysterectomy), estrogen alone can be prescribed. This is commonly known as estrogen replacement therapy (ERT).
Combined PHT: It has become clear that long-term use (several years or more) of combined postmenopausal hormone therapy increases the risk of breast cancer and may also increase the chances of dying of breast cancer. Several large studies, including the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), have found that there is an increased risk of breast cancer related to the use of combined PHT.
ERT: The use of estrogen alone does not appear to increase the risk of developing breast cancer significantly, if at all. But when used long term (for more than 10 years), ERT has been found to increase the risk of ovarian and breast cancer in some studies.

Breast-feeding
Some studies suggest that breast-feeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if breast-feeding is continued for 1.5 to 2 years. The explanation for this possible effect may be that breast-feeding reduces a woman's total number of lifetime menstrual cycles. This may be similar to the reduction of risk due to starting menstrual periods at a later age or due to early menopause, which also decrease the total number of menstrual cycles.

Alcohol
Use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Compared with nondrinkers, women who consume 1 alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk of women who drink no alcohol. Alcohol is also known to increase the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver.

Being Overweight or Obese
Being overweight or obese has been found to increase breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause. Before menopause your ovaries produce most of your estrogen, and fat tissue produces a small amount of estrogen. After menopause, once the ovaries stop making estrogen, most of a woman's estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can increase your estrogen levels and thereby increase your likelihood of developing breast cancer.

Physical Activity
Evidence is growing that physical activity in the form of exercise reduces breast cancer risk. The only question is how much exercise is needed. In one study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman's risk by 18%. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more. 

Breast Implants
Several studies have found that breast implants do not increase breast cancer risk, although silicone breast implants can cause scar tissue to form in the breast. Implants make it harder to see breast tissue on standard mammograms.

Environmental Pollution
A great deal of research has been reported and more is being done to understand environmental influences on breast cancer risk. The goal is to determine their possible relationships to breast cancer. Of special interest are compounds in the environment that have estrogen-like properties, which could in theory affect breast cancer risk.

Night Work
Several studies have suggested that women who work at night -- for example, nurses on a night shift -- may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. This is a fairly recent finding, and more studies are in progress to look at this issue. According to some researchers, the effect may be due to disruption in melatonin, a hormone that is affected by light, but other hormones are also being studied.

To assess your breast risks, get a Thermography test done.

It is a very effective early warning method.

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