Understanding your breast cancer risk factors

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Your whole-person wellness – your physical and mental health, nutrition and more – is extremely important and what your physician is always focused on. Your physician may already be asking you questions to evaluate your risk of certain cancers, but do you know what they’re looking for?

It’s never too early to start learning about the factors that contribute to your risk of breast cancer, especially the ones you can control! Here’s what you need to know about the different risks you could have.

Factors you can control:

  • BMI – Your BMI, or body mass index, measures your weight in relation to your height. This is important because fat cells produce estrogen. Women who are overweight or obese after menopause have at least a 30 percent higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Exercise – Exercise is an important part of your whole-person wellness, and it can help decrease your chance of breast cancer (and other cancers, too)! Plus, it can help you regulate your BMI.
  • Alcohol consumption – More than six to ten drinks a week elevate the risk of not only breast cancer but other types of cancers as well.
  • Hormone replacement therapy – Hormone replacement therapy that contains both estrogen and progesterone during menopause increases your risk of breast cancer by about 75%. Estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy also increases your risk, but only if used for more than 10 years.
  • Reproductive history – Women who don’t have a full-term pregnancy before 30 years old have a higher risk of breast cancer, but not all women can control this risk factor. Your first full-term pregnancy helps breast cells fully mature and grow more regularly. Pregnancy can also reduce the number of menstrual cycles you have over your lifetime which decreases your risk of breast cancer.

Factors you can’t control:

  • Family cancer history – If you’ve unfortunately had a mother, sister or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk of developing it is doubled. If you have two people in the same category who have been diagnosed, you have a five times higher risk.
  • Menstrual history – Women who started having periods younger than 12 years old or women who go through menopause when they’re older than 55 are at a higher risk. The longer you menstruate, the higher your lifetime exposure to estrogen and progesterone.
  • Breast tissue – Having dense breast tissue makes it harder for doctors to see early breast cancers on mammograms – which is why 3D mammography is so important. However, about half of women have breast tissue that’s somewhat or mostly dense.
  • Genetic mutation – Around 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary. This means that abnormal genes – like mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2, which cause most inherited cases of breast cancer – are passed from a parent to a child.
  • Radiation – If you’ve had radiation to your chest to treat another cancer, your risk of breast cancer is higher. This risk also increases if you had radiation as a child when your breasts were developing.

If you’re concerned about your risks, don’t put off getting your annual mammogram! Click below to schedule your annual exam.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.