Understanding the risk factors for breast cancer

Monday October 18 2021
Breast pic

As we continue to engage in commemorating the breast awareness month, it is important to be aware of the body’s changes and be vigilant enough to seek medical attention where need be.


What is a normal breast?

No breast is typical. What is normal for you may not be normal for another woman. Most women say their breasts feel lumpy or uneven. The way your breasts look and feel can be affected by getting your period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age.


What do lumps in my breast mean?

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Many conditions can cause lumps in the breast, including cancer. However, most breast lumps are caused by other medical conditions. The two most common causes of breast lumps are fibrocystic breast condition and cysts. Fibrocystic condition causes noncancerous changes in the breast that can make them lumpy, tender, and sore. Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that can develop in the breast.


Risk factors you cannot change

1. Age: The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.

2. Genetic mutations: Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

3. Reproductive history: Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 exposes women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.

4. Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.

5. Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases: Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.

6. Family history of breast or ovarian cancer: A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.


Risk factors you can change

1. Exercise: Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.

2. Being overweight or obese after menopause: Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.

3. Taking hormones: Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise the risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years.

4. Reproductive history: Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.

5. Drinking alcohol: Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.