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Breast Cancer Causes and Prevention

Causes of Breast Cancer
  • Many women who develop breast cancer have no risk factors other than age and sex.
  • Gender is the biggest risk because breast cancer occurs mostly in women.
  • Age is another critical factor. Breast cancer may occur at any age, though the risk of breast cancer increases with age
  • Obesity after menopause and excessive alcohol intake may increase the risk of breast cancer slightly.
  • A woman with a personal history of cancer in one breast has a greater risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This refers to the risk for developing a new tumor and not a recurrence (return) of the first cancer.
  • Hormonal Causes: Breast cancer risk is increased in women with the longest known exposures to sex hormones, particularly estrogen (female sex hormone). Therefore, breast cancer risk is increased in women who have a history of
    • Early first menstrual period (before age 12),
    • Late menopause (end of menstruation),
    • No pregnancies
    • Late pregnancy (after age 30), or use of
    • Birth control pills (the 'Pill;' oral contraceptives - 'OCs').
    • There is an increased risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women who were on a combination of estrogen and progesterone for several years.
  • Genetic Causes:
    • Family history has long been known to be a risk factor for breast cancer. The risk is highest if the affected relative developed breast cancer at a young age, had cancer in both breasts, or if she is a close relative. First-degree relatives, (mother, sister, daughter) are most important in estimating risk. Several second-degree relatives (grandmother, aunt) with breast cancer may also increase risk. Having relatives with both breast and ovarian cancer also increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
    • About 5-10% of breast cancers are believed to be hereditary, as a result of mutations, or changes, in certain genes that are passed along in families.
Prevention of Breast Cancer
  • The most important risk factors for the development of breast cancer are sex, age, and genetics. Because women can do nothing about these risks, regular screening is recommended in order to allow early detection and thus prevent death from breast cancer.
  • Regular screening includes breast self-examination, clinical breast examination, and mammography.
  • Breast self-examination is cheap and easy. Routine monthly examination may be helpful. Instruction in the technique of breast self-examination can be obtained from your health-care provider.
  • For women who are menstruating, the best time for examination is immediately after the monthly period. For women who are not menstruating or whose periods are extremely irregular, picking a certain date each month seems to work best.

  • All women are encouraged to maintain normal body weight, especially after menopause and to limit excess alcohol intake.
  • Have children earlier in life, if possible. Having no children or having your first child in your mid-thirties or later increases the risk.
  • Consider breastfeeding instead of formula feeding. Researchers believe that the months without a period during pregnancy and breast feeding may reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer.
  • Avoid hormone replacement therapy if possible. Studies have shown a link between long time hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer. If you need to take hormone replacement therapy, talk to your doctor about the risk and your personal condition.
  • Abortion / Miscarriage history: Some studies have reported an increased risk of breast cancer among women who have had induced abortions & Miscarriages.
  • Cigarette smoking has not been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. Yet because smoking increases the risk of so many other cancers - as well as heart and lung diseases, most physicians advise women to quit smoking.

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