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Are You at Risk for Breast Cancer?

By Meghana Giridhar
October 6

According to, 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. Breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, apart from lung cancer. October is breast cancer awareness month. It is important for women to understand factors that can increase the chance of getting the disease. Risk factors are just an indication of the possibility of the disease. When a women contracts breast cancer, it is not always clear how many factors contributed to the development. Risk factors can be due to genes or the environment or personal choices. Here are some risk factors that are independent of personal behaviors: Genes: 5%-10% of breast cancer cases are due to gene defects passed down from a parent. Gene defects also known as mutations generally occur in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This kind of cancer usually occurs amongst younger women. The chances of developing the disease also increases when a family member such as mother, sister or daughter have had it. The risk doubles automatically. Age: 1 in 8 invasive cancer cases are among women younger than 45. But in women aged 55 or older, invasive cancer cases are 2 out of 3. Gender: It is untrue that only women develop breast cancer. However, the disease is 100 times more than in women than men mainly due to the lower amounts of estrogen and progesterone hormones that promote the cancer cell growth. Prior Case of Breast Cancer: Women who’ve had cancer in one breast could experience heightened risk of a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. The risk is compounded if the cancer was detected at an earlier age. Race: African-American women have a lower risk of developing the disease as compared to Caucasian women. However, more African-American women are likely to die of the disease. Dense breast tissue: Breast tissue which is made up of fatty tissue, fibrous tissue and glandular tissue gets dense when there is more glandular tissue as compared to fatty tissue. This can increase the risk that is as high as 1.2 to 2 times of women with average breast density. Menstrual Cycles: Women who started menstruating before the age of 12 and/or went through menopause after 55 years of age have higher risks of breast cancer. This is due to a longer exposure to estrogen and progesterone hormones. Risk Factors Due to Lifestyle Choices: Motherhood: Women who’ve had babies after the age of 30 and those with no children have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. However, there is a certain type of breast cancer called triple-negative that leads to increased risk with pregnancy. Contraceptives: Intake of birth control pills can lead to a higher risk than for those who have never used them. Once pills are stopped, the risk falls. Alcohol Consumption: Women who have 2-5 drinks a day have 1.5 times the risk as compared to women who have only 1 drink a day. Obesity: Overweight women who have experienced menopause can have higher risk for breast cancer. Before menopause, ovaries produce most of the estrogen but post-menopause estrogen comes from fat tissue. More fat tissue translates into higher chances of breast cancer. Potential New Risks: Low Vitamin D Levels: Vitamin D controls normal breast cell growth and has the potential to stop breast cancer cells from growing. It is important to have normal levels of vitamin D so reduce the risk. Unhealthy Diet: A healthy diet can boost the immune system and keep the risk low. Exposure to Chemicals in Cosmetics, Food and Plastic: Studies have suggested that chemicals in cosmetics and pesticides and hormones used on crops can lead to health problems and quite possibly breast cancer. Mercury in seafood and industrial chemicals in food and food packaging are also potential risks. Chemicals in plastic such as bisphenol A (BPA) could cause cancer according to research. Having one or a combination of risk factors does not mean one will develop breast cancer. Consulting your doctor and having regular check-ups while following a healthy lifestyle can be an ideal way to protect your body. References: Meghana Giridhar serves as Content Manager and is part of eCareDiary's founding team. In her role, she oversees and edits content across all of eCareDiary's media platforms.

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Expert Q&A

When You Have Medication-Related Questions

Care Providers, Edward Leigh

Question: I try to accompany my aging mother for her doctor's appointments but sometimes I can't do so. Often, there are questions related to the medication. But I can't seem to get a hold of the doctor when I call. Who is the next best person to talk to in such matters?

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