Breast cancer is a type of cancer that affects around 44,500 people each year. It can effect both men and women with approximately 300 men being diagnosed with the condition annually. The cancer develops when the cells in the breast become malignant and start to multiply uncontrollably. Over time this can lead to the formation of a lump in the breast. No one is sure exactly what causes this type of cancer but there are a number of strong risk factors. In this article I will be discussing seven of these.
1) GENDER:- Being female is the main risk factor for this type of cancer with it occurring in less than 1% of males. The reason for this is that women have more breast cells than men and these cells are constantly exposed to oestrogen and progesterone. These female hormones both promote growth and are believed to stimulate the growth of cancer cells.
2) GETTING OLDER:- Unfortunately breast cancer becomes more common as you get older. Up to age 39 women’s risk of developing this type of cancer is about 0.5%. However, this increases to 7% for women over the age of 60. The reason that age is such a major risk factor is that is that the longer you live the greater the chances of your cells becoming damaged and turning cancerous.
3) DRINKING ALCOHOL:- Studies suggest that the more you drink the greater your risk of developing this type of cancer is. Although drinking alcohol does not increase your breast cancer risk significantly, the amount of alcohol you consume directly influences your risk. Therefore, moderate drinkers are less likely to develop this type of cancer than heavy drinkers.
4) OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS WITH CANCER:- Your family history can determine how likely you are to develop this disease. If other people in your family have previously contracted cancer then this makes you more likely. On top of this there are two specific hereditary genes associated with breast cancer; BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you have one of these genes your risk is also increased.
5) NOT HAVING CHILDREN:- Not having any children or giving birth later in life (after the age of 30) marginally increases your breast cancer risk. Contrastingly, having children in your twenties or having multiple children reduces your risk.
6) MENSTRUAL PERIODS:- Menstruating is believed to increase a women’s breast cancer risk in the long term. Therefore, women who started their periods early or enter the menopause (a time when the female reproductive system shuts down completely) late do have a greater chance of developing this type of cancer. This is thought to be linked to the increased levels of oestrogen stimulating cancer cells whilst a woman’s reproductive system is active.
7) PERSONAL HISTORY OF BREAST CANCER:- If you have previously had this type of cancer then you have are at a greater risk than someone who has never had the disease. On top of this if you have previously contracted this condition in one breast your chances of it developing in the other breast are increased.
Many of the risk factors discussed in this article are beyond your control. However, by being aware of them you can work out your own personal risk. From here you can then see your doctor and discuss any possible treatments and preventative action. I hope this article clears up any confusion and helps you determine whether you are at risk.
Whilst every intention has been made to make this article accurate and informative, it is intended for general information only. Breast cancer is a very serious, life threatening condition and you should discuss any concerns, treatments or lifestyle changes fully with your doctor.