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Home News and Update Year 2010 Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Times of India
27 March 2010

Dr Vani Parmar, Consultant Surgical Oncologist, Tata Memorial Hospital
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
The main risk factors associated with increased risk for developing breast cancer, other than obesity, are mainly life style factors and reproductive habits which are suggestive of a strong hormonal influence in development of breast cancer.

In developed countries, increasing age has been implicated as one of the main risk factors for higher incidence of breast cancer. The same is not so obvious in developing countries where the incidence is more in younger women and peak incidence is seen in women between 40-49 years of age, a decade younger than in women in the west. The life time risk of developing breast cancer in women from developed countries such as the US is 1 in 8 women, as compared to 1 in 60 in rural areas in developing countries. Urban women in developing countries are already showing a trend towards the higher risk pattern (1 in 28 women life time risk in Mumbai) with urbanisation and emancipation of women. These are mainly due to changing life styles, dietary habits and the reproductive habits of urban women in countries such as India.

Earlier onset of menarche and late menopause increases the overall reproductive life of a woman and therefore increases the risk of breast cancer. Early and multiple pregnancies are thought to be protective. A full term pregnancy is necessary for this protection to be obvious and it takes nearly a decade to become evident. Once it appears, its effect appears to persist for a lifetime.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in all forms and combinations significantly increases the risk for developing breast cancer incidence (1.63 times). It resulted in a sudden stoppage of use of HRT in the US, translating into a nearly 7 per cent dip in the incidence of breast cancer in 2004. Thus, the effect of risk rapidly declines with stoppage of use of HRT (and also oral contraceptive pills).

Breast feeding itself has also been shown to protect against breast cancer. A period of breast feeding of at least three to six months is recommended for adequate protection against breast cancer.

The familial or hereditary breast cancers comprise only 5 per cent of all breast cancer burden. Three-fourths of them have a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation.

Technically, the more correctable life style issues related to breast cancer prevention are namely diet-weight control, exercise, reproductive habits, and avoiding exogenous hormones. Simply put, planning the first child before the age of 30 years, breast feeding for a period of six months to one year, keeping weight in check with regular exercises, avoiding smoking, limiting fat in diet, and avoiding HRT are effective prevention measures.

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