October is Breast Cancer Awareness month! Just like with all of our blogs, we always want to be able to educate and help someone in some way. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. 1 in every 8 is affected. Cancer begins in the cells which are the basic building blocks that make up tissue. Tissue is found in the breast and other parts of the body. Sometimes, the process of cell growth goes wrong and new cells form when the body doesn’t need them and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. When this occurs, a build up of cells often forms a mass of tissue called a lump, growth, or tumor. Breast cancer occurs when these malignant tumors develop in the breast. These cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumor and entering blood vessels or lymph vessels, which branch into tissues throughout the body. When cancer cells travel to other parts of the body and begin damaging other tissues and organs, the process is called metastasis.
When you’re told that you have breast cancer, it’s natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. No one knows the exact causes of breast cancer. Doctors seldom know why one woman develops breast cancer and another doesn’t, and most women who have breast cancer will never be able to pinpoint an exact cause. What we do know is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to a cell's DNA. Women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. Some risk factors (such as drinking alcohol) can be avoided. But most risk factors (such as having a family history of breast cancer) can’t be avoided. Having a risk factor does not mean that a woman will get breast cancer. Many women who have risk factors never develop breast cancer.
Genetic risk factors that cannot be changed include:
Gender: Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
Age: Two out of three women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55.
Race: Breast cancer is diagnosed more often in Caucasian women than women of other races.
Family History and Genetic Factors: If your mother, sister, father or child has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, you have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the future. Your risk increases if your relative was diagnosed before the age of 50.
Personal Health History: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast in the future. Also, your risk increases if abnormal breast cells have been detected before.
Menstrual and Reproductive History: Early menstruation (before age 12), late menopause (after 55), having your first child at an older age, or never having given birth can also increase your risk for breast cancer.
Certain Genome Changes: Mutations in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase your risk for breast cancer. This is determined through a genetic test, which you may consider taking if you have a family history of breast cancer. Individuals with these gene mutations can pass the gene mutation onto their children.
Dense Breast Tissue: Having dense breast tissue can increase your risk for breast cancer and make lumps harder to detect. Several states have passed laws requiring physicians to disclose to women if their mammogram indicates that they have dense breasts so that they are aware of this risk. Be sure to ask your physician if you have dense breasts and what the implications of having dense breasts are.
Environmental and lifestyle factors that can be changed to help prevent breast cancer include:
Lack of Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle with little physical activity can increase your risk for breast cancer.
Poor Diet: A diet high in saturated fat and lacking fruits and vegetables can increase your risk for breast cancer.
Being Overweight or Obese: Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for breast cancer. Your risk is increased if you have already gone through menopause.
Drinking Alcohol: Frequent consumption of alcohol can increase your risk for breast cancer. The more alcohol you consume, the greater the risk.
Radiation to the Chest: Having radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30 can increase your risk for breast cancer.
Combined Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Taking combined hormone replacement therapy, as prescribed for menopause, can increase your risk for breast cancer and increases the risk that the cancer will be detected at a more advanced stage.
Breast cancer is not caused by wearing under wire bras, implants, deodorants, antiperspirants, mammograms, caffeine, plastic food serving items, microwaves, or cell phones, as myths often suggest. For more information, please speak with your primary physician.