A risk factor is something that may increase your chance of getting a disease. But risk factors aren’t all the same. Some risk factors that impact your chances of getting breast cancer, such as being older than age 55, being a woman, or family history, can’t be changed. But there are many that can. Watching your weight, limiting alcohol, and living a healthy lifestyle are three ways to reduce your chances of breast cancer by reducing the impact of risk factors you can control.
Risk Factors Related to Family History
The majority of women who develop breast cancer do not have family history of the disease, but about 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases occur in women with family history. These cases are related to one or more gene mutations passed on from a parent. In cases of hereditary family history, the cancer may show up at an earlier age, and appears in multiple females on one side of the family from multiple generations, such as a sister and an aunt and a grandmother.
The most common gene mutation is in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, but there are others as well. Women with one of these mutations also have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. These mutations are more common in Jewish people of Ashkenazi (Eastern Europe) origin, but not exclusively.
Risk factors You Can Control
According to the American Cancer Society, personal behaviors, such as diet and exercise, do affect cancer risk. The following three lifestyle factors are considered risk factors for breast cancer:
- Drinking alcohol – The risk of breast cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. For women who drink, it is best to limit alcohol to less than one drink per week.
- Being overweight or obese, especially after menopause – The American Cancer Society recommends balancing your weight throughout life by balancing calories with physical activity.
- Lack of physical activity, especially after menopause – There is growing evidence that exercise lowers breast cancer after menopause.
While there is no one way to prevent breast cancer, all women are encouraged to do what they can to live a healthy lifestyle by getting to and staying at a healthy weight, getting physical activity throughout their lifetime, and limiting alcohol consumption to none or no more than one drink per week.
If you need help understanding breast cancer risk or prevention, a second opinion can give you peace of mind. Contact 2nd.MD today.