Breast cancer is identified to be a major killer of middle-aged women, and the second most common cause of death by cancer. It is estimated that one out of every eight American women living up to 95-years-old develop breast cancer. The number of deaths from breast carcinoma is now declining due to the improved screening methods, early diagnosis, and treatments.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
- Female sex
If you are woman, you are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to men. (Yes, men also can develop breast cancer! Even though it is not prominent, males also have breast tissue from which cancers can develop but this is very rare.)
Females above 30-years-old are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer is found to be a common cause of death in women between the ages of 40-years-old and 50-years-old.
Breast cancer is found to be more common among caucasians and Jews, and is rare for women in Japan and Taiwan.
- Family history
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer (i.e. two first degree relatives), then you have a five-fold risk of developing breast cancer, especially if they had a history of bilateral or premenopausal diagnosed cancer. A strong family history only accounts to 10% of all breast cancer while, 50% are accounted by genetic factors.
BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes have been found to be on chromosome 17 in women with a family history of carcinoma of the breast. These genes are associated with an increased risk. S mutation in either of these leads to an 80% to a 90% risk of developing the disease.
- Your medical history
If you have a past history of a breast cancer or a previous history of a benign breast disease such as fibrocystic changes, then you are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
- Menstrual history
Early menarche (before 12-years-old) or late menopause (after 50-years-old) increasess your estrogen window i.e. you will be exposed to estrogen for a longer time period compared to others, which makes you more at risk of developing the women.
- Pregnancy history
If you have never conceived, or if you conceived your first pregnancy at a later age (after 30-years-old) the risk of developing breast cancer is higher compared to others who have conceived early.
- Breast feeding
As you may know, one advantage of breast feeding is that it will reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. The longer you breast feed, less of a risk.
- Hormonal factors
If you are on long-term oral contraceptive pills (OCP’s) or on Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) for more than 10 years, then the chances of developing breast cancer is high.
- Other factors
Other factors, such as obesity, exposure to irradiation, and chronic alcoholism increase the likelihood of developing the disease. However, surprisingly, smoking has not shown to increase the risk of breast cancer in women.