Not Just October is focused on making sure that women of all ages, races, and walks of life are aware of breast cancer and making prevention and/or early detection a priority. Unfortunately, like any kind of cancer, there’s no sure-fire way to guarantee you won’t experience breast cancer. But what women can do is; educate themselves on all of the risk factors that science has told us can lead to breast cancer and be sure that they’re taking ownership of their health. Risk factors aren’t a guarantee that a woman will have breast cancer, but they are valuable information to be aware of and a great way to stay miles ahead in the war against this horrible disease.
Here are the main risk factors for breast cancer (1):
- Age – As women get older, their risk for getting breast cancer increase. Most cases of breast cancer occur after age 50.
- Genetics – Mutations to certain genes, like BRCA1 & BRCA2, indicate a higher risk for breast cancer.
- Menstruation – Women who had their first period before age 12 have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer, due to an increased exposure to hormones.
- Pregnancy – Having their first pregnancy after 30 or never having a full-term pregnancy.
- Menopause – Starting menopause after age 55 increases a woman’s exposure to hormones, which raises her risk of breast cancer slightly.
- Physical Activity – A lack of physical activity increases breast cancer risk.
- Weight – Women who are overweight or obese are more at risk for breast cancer.
- Breast Density – Breasts that are more dense (have more connective tissue than fatty tissue) are more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Hormone Therapy – The hormones estrogen and progestin increase risk when taken together, as well as estrogen and progesterone when taken in menopause for more than five years.
- Birth Control – Certain oral contraceptives have been found increase breast cancer risk.
- Health History – Women who have a personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases are more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Family History – If a woman’s mother, sister, or daughter, or multiple family members on either side of their family has had breast cancer, that woman is more likely to personally have breast cancer.
- Radiation – A woman who has had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts before they were 30 is more likely to have breast cancer.
- DES – A woman who was given the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES, was given to pregnant women from 1940 to 1971 to prevent miscarriage) are at a higher risk for breast cancer.
- Alcohol – The more alcohol a woman drinks, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer.
Again, it’s important not to assume that if one of these risk factors applies to you that you are automatically going to get breast cancer. Instead, take your health seriously and be sure to stay on top of self breast exams, regular doctor appointments, and mammograms. Live your life aware and make sure that the women around you are aware also. Now that you know what the most common risk factors are, you can share them with the other women in your life.