Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women, with an estimated 211,240 cases expected to be diagnosed this year. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of getting a disease. Scientist have identified a number of risk factors for developing breast cancer, including:
Risk Factors That Cannot Be Changed
- Increasing age (two-thirds of all breast cancers occur in women over 50 years of age)
- Onset of first menstrual period at age 11 or younger
- Onset of menopause after age 50
- Family history of breast cancer in mother, and/or sisters
- Exposure to ionizing radiation (fluoroscopy for tuberculosis, radiation for Hodgkin's Disease etc)
- Jewish ethnicity
Rick Factors That Can Be Changed
- Never having children or having a first pregnancy after age 35
- Use of oral contraceptives (risk increases only while taking oral contraceptives)
- Use of hormone replacement therapy containing forth estrogen and progestin. The benefits and risks of estrogen alone are less clear and currently being studied.
- Consuming one or more alcoholic drinks per day
- Postmenopausal weight gain at menopause and/or after age 60
Other possible risk factors being studied include:
- A sedentary lifestyle
Since 70% of women who develop breast cancer do not have any of the risk factors identified above, all women need to take preventative steps.
Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer
What steps can you take to prevent breast cancer?
- Eating a low-fat diet may help prevent breast cancer.
- Exercise, especially in younger women, may decrease hormones levels and contribute to a decreased breast cancer risk
- Limit alcohol consumption to less than 1 drink per day
- Breastfeeding for at least one year over all pregnancies lowers breast cancer risk
- Talk with your family physician about taking a Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator (SERM) such as tamoxifen or raloxifene if you are at high risk
- Consider gene testing, and/or prophylactic mastectomy if you have a strong family history of breast cancer
- Refraining from tobacco use can provide health benefits in addition to possibly lowering breast cancer risk
- Follow the recommended screening and early detection guidelines.
The American Cancer Society recommends:
- women age 40 and older should have an annual mammogram
- women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam performed by a health care professional every three years; women forty and older should have an annual clinical breast exam
- breast self-examination is an option for women starting in their 20s.
If detected early, breast cancer can often be treated effectively.
For more information about any cancer concern, contact:
Cancer Information Service
Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center
UI Hospitals and Clinics
200 Hawkins Drive, 4802 JPP
Iowa City, Iowa 52242