Breast cancer risk factors are numerous and can contribute to the risk of developing breast cancer. Research shows that 27% of breast cancer cases can be connected to major lifestyle choices (Parkin et al, 2010). The majority of women have a number of breast cancer risk factors but that doesn’t of course mean that you’re going to get it. If you have a higher risk of getting breast cancer then talk to your GP about it, make sure that you regularly check your breasts and make sure that you attend any breast screening sessions.
The main breast cancer risk factors are:
- Being female
- Getting older – the risk of breast cancer increases over the age of 50
- Family history of breast cancer
- Genetic mutations – if you have inherited the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene you may be at a higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer
- Early menstrual period before the age of 12 years old
- Late pregnancy over the age of 30 or no pregnancy
- Not being physically active
- Being overweight or obese
- Having denser breast tissue – this can make it more difficult to detect tumours
- Increased alcohol intake
- Taking oral contraceptives
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – oestrogen only
- Shift work leading to disrupted circadian rhythms
- Exposure to certain chemicals – there is a probable link to this according to research. This can include smoking, digoxin, ethylene oxide and polychlorinated biphenyls
- Previous history of breast cancer
- Previous treatment with radiotherapy, particularly before the age of 30
Some of these risk factors can be affected through lifestyle choices. There’s of course not much you can do to change your sex or your age. However, trying to maintain a healthy weight, a healthy diet and being physically active on a regular basis can help to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer. Having children and breastfeeding have also been found to have a protective effect.
If you are worried about your risk of breast cancer or notice any unusual changes within one or both breasts, please contact your GP immediately and get it checked. It’s usually absolutely nothing to worry about but it’s far better to be safe than sorry!
Let’s be “breast aware” not only this month but every month.