Targeting the risk factors for breast cancer

Cancer is a formidable foe. Among women, no cancer poses a greater threat than breast cancer, which the World Health Organization reports is the most often diagnosed cancer both in the developed and developing worlds. Gaining a greater understanding of breast cancer may not prevent the onset of this disease that kills hundreds of thousands of women each year, but it might increase the chances of early detection, which can greatly improve women’s chances of survival. The following are the established risk factors for breast cancer:

Gender: Being a woman is the single biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer. Men can get breast cancer, but the risk for men is substantially smaller than it is for women. According to Breastcancer.org, roughly 190,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year in the United States alone.

Age: The American Cancer Society notes that about two out of every three invasive breast cancers are found in women ages 55 and older, whereas just one out of every eight invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45. The World Health Organization notes that instances of breast cancer are growing in developing countries, citing longer life expectancies as one of the primary reasons for that increase.

Family history: According to the Organization, a family history of breast cancer increases a woman’s risk factor by two or three. Women who have had one first-degree female relative — which includes sisters, mothers, and daughters — diagnosed with breast cancer are at double the risk for breast cancer than women without such family histories. The risk of developing breast cancer is five times greater for women who have two first-degree relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Menstrual history: Women who began menstruating younger than age 12 have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life than women who began menstruating after their 12th birthdays. The earlier a woman’s breasts form, the sooner they are ready to interact with hormones and chemicals in products that are hormone disruptors. Longer interaction with hormones and hormone disruptors increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer.

Lifestyle choices: A 2005 comparative risk assessment of nine behaviors and environmental factors published in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet found that 21 percent of all breast cancer deaths across the globe are attributable to alcohol consumption, being overweight or obese, and physical inactivity. Women can do nothing to control breast cancer risk factors like gender, age, and family history, but making the right lifestyle choices — including limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, and living an active lifestyle — can reduce the likelihood that they will develop breast cancer.

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