Breast cancer often develops in women with
no clear risk factors for the disease. But it is important
for women to have knowledge of the various risk factors for
breast cancer because some of the risks can be changed, maybe
helping to inhibit the development of the disease. Unfortunately,
there are women with risk factors that cannot be changed;
just knowing about them, however, can help those women be
aware of their higher inclination. This knowledge can then
be a means of protection.
It seems that breast cancer runs in families; so if a woman
has a close relative, like a mother or sister, with breast
cancer, then her chances of developing the disease are much
greater. There are inherited gene changes in the BRCA1 and
BRCA2 genes that strongly increase the development of breast
cancer. Along with the female gender, race is a risk also
because there is a higher incidence in white women. If a person
already has a history of breast cancer, her chances of a recurrence
are greater. For those who had therapeutic radiation of the
chest, as needed in certain diseases like Hodgkins, their
chances of breast cancer are also increased. Other risk factors
for breast cancer involve the early onset of menses and the
lateness of menopause, along with aging (higher incidence
in women over 50). If a woman was given diethylstilbestrol
(DES) for prevention of miscarriage, which was prevalent before
the l970s, this will also adversely affect her chances of
But there are many risk factors for breast cancer that can
be changed before they may unfavorably affect its development.
It is noted that women who have their children after their
late 20s, or have no children at all, are at higher risk.
(But it is interesting to note that breast-feeding may actually
discourage development of the disease.) Moderate obesity has
been shown to have an impact on breast cancer, as well as,
diets high in fats. Studies have concluded that environmental
pollution is also a risk factor. Heavy alcohol intake and
sedentary life styles both increase chances of development
of this disease. The use of estrogen replacement therapy and
the use of oral contraceptives are both linked to breast cancer.
Smoking is one of the big risk factors in breast cancer development.
So, it is recommended that women stay active, watch their
weight, have children and breast-feed, use alcohol moderately,
avoid ERT (estrogen replacement therapy), limit contraceptive
use, live in pollution-free areas when possible, and do not
smoke. This way of life takes the risk factors for breast
cancer that a woman can control and turns them back to the
positive side. Plainly stated, breast tumor development may
be limited by these simple changes in diet and lifestyle.
Janet Brown is a medical writer
and graduate of Loyola University New Orleans. Her personal
experiences with breast cancer have drawn her to her current
work developing breast cancer patient education and awareness
materials. She currently lives in Georgia.