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Know the Risk: 5 Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Samantha DiGrande
Here are 5 breast cancer risk factors for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 
In 2018, the National Cancer Institute estimates that 266,120 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Being aware of the risk factors for breast cancer may help individuals take preventive measures to reduce their chances of developing the disease, as well as potentially enable earlier detection. Here are 5 risk factors for developing breast cancer.

1. Genetic mutations

About 5% to 10% of breast cancers and 10% to 15% of ovarian cancers are hereditary. Women with inherited mutations to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are at a higher risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancers. When functioning normally, these genes keep breast and ovarian cells from growing or and dividing too rapidly. However, when there is a mutation in these genes, it can lead to the cells dividing or developing in an uncontrolled way. 

2. Reproductive history

Both menstrual and reproductive history may increase the risk for breast cancer. Early menstruation (defined as menstruation before age 12 years), giving birth to your first child after age 35 years (or never giving birth), and beginning menopause after age 55 years can all potentially increase the risk for breast cancer. Notably, breast feeding may help to lower the risk of breast cancer.

3. Dense breasts

Breasts are made up of fatty tissue, fibrous tissue, and glandular tissue. Having “dense breasts” refers to a woman who has more glandular and fibrous tissue than fatty tissue, which makes the breast more difficult to image with a mammogram and subsequently identify potentially harmful tumors. Women with dense breasts have a risk of breast cancer that is on average 1.5 to 2 times greater than that of a woman with average breast density.  

4. Gender

Although breast cancer is primarily thought of as a disease that only occurs in women, men can also develop breast cancer. Each year, nearly 2000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. The chance to develop breast cancer, however, is about 100 times more likely in women. Specifically, women 60 years and older are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Only about 10% to 15% of breast cancers occur in women younger than 45 years, although this may vary depending on race or ethnicity. 

5. Lifestyle risk factors

Many lifestyle factors can increase the risk of breast cancer. Specifically, a sedentary lifestyle commonly seen in individuals who work in an office and have a lack of physical activity can increase the risk of breast cancer. Having a poor diet, such as eating foods high in saturated fats and lacking fruits and vegetables, can also increase the risk. In addition, frequently consuming alcohol and being overweight or obese has also been identified as an increased risk factor. In fact, if a woman has already gone through menopause and is also obese or overweight, her chances of developing breast cancer are further increased.

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