Breast Cancer Risks
For women, breast cancer is that one ‘evil character’ of the story in which ‘forces of good’ have to fight a vendetta in every nook and cranny, almost throughout life. The chances of winning may depend upon lifestyle modifications or breast cancer treatment options, which serve as a spring in their step against the evil of breast cancer.
According to WHO, it is the most prevalent cancer among women and only in 2012, 1.7 million women have been affected by it. This rapid spread of disease constitutes 12% increase in 2012. Belgium, France and Denmark had the highest rate of breast cancer in 2012. However, North America and Australia have the highest incidence of this disease; whereas, Asia and Africa have the lowest incident. In U.S.A. every 1 out of 8 women will develop breast cancer.
According to the current data, the probability of getting invasive breast cancer according to age is as follows (remember these % ages are an average of whole population):
- A 20 year old girl has 0.1% chances of getting an invasive breast cancer in the next 10 years as opposed to a lady of 30 years who has 44% chances.
- The chances of getting invasive breast cancer in next 10 years, for a lady currently in her 40s, 50s and 60s are only 1.45%, 2% and 3% respectively.
The likelihood of getting breast cancer can vary for every individual according to their health conditions, lifestyle, family history etc. Once aware of the lifestyle choices or the treatment options, women can save themselves from breast cancer. Just find out if you are falling somewhere in the following list.
High levels of our own natural hormones can increase our risk of cancer. But some medical treatments can also increase our hormone levels, including Contraceptive Pill And hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Combined Oestrogen and Progesterone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Researchers have found that postmenopausal women who have been using combined oestrogen‐progesterone therapy (HRT) are prone to developing breast cancer 4 times more than those who are not on HRT. The particular type of cancer common in such patients is lobular type.
In USA, lobular cancer is found in 15% of women and it is more challenging for the doctors to detect. However, its treatment is easier as compare to the ductal cancer. Lobular cancer is susceptible to hormones so it can be treated with medicines. Combined oestrogen‐progesterone therapy is mostly given to women who have developed;
- Pre-mature menopause (means the menopause is achieved before the age of 40).
- Early menopause around the age of 45 (natural age of menopause is 51 years of age).
- Most of women till the age of 51, take HRT to defy the vasomotor symptoms (like flushing etc.) and for preservation of bone structure(because after menopause, bones start to lose calcium and chances of getting osteoporosis become high). Here, one thing to be emphasized is that women who are taking oestrogen and progesterone combination therapy are 4 times more susceptible to developing breast cancer. However, doctors only give HRT by comparing the risk benefit ratio.
Uncontrolled Weight Gain and Sedentary Lifestyle
Women, who are overweight, have a high BMI, and minimal physical activity, have 2 to 4 times more chances of developing breast cancer. Reason being, that they end up having an increased mean concentration of oestrogen hormone in their blood.
Alcohol consumption is one big cause of putting yourself at risk of breast cancer. If you are under the false impression that any one particular type of wine or beer is safe against breast cancer, then it is about time that you change your perception.
- If a woman is consuming 14 or more alcoholic drinks per week, her risk of developing breast cancer is 24% higher than a woman who does not drink alcohol at all.
- No alcohol type is safe against breast cancer whether it is red/white wine or liquor/beer.
A major cause of breast cancer is mutation in the genes. Gene testing is the only way through which mutation can be detected. BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are the two mutations which pave way to developing breast cancer. The probability of breast cancer development is 36%‐ 85% if a woman carries BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
According to a research published in an issue of Cancer Research August 2015, it was found that:
- BRCA1 is more common in white versus black women while, BRCA2 is more prevalent in black versus white women.
- It is also found that breast cancer cases with a family history of ovarian cancer have 14% BRCA1 mutation while those individuals who have a family history of ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer have a susceptibility of 27% BRCA1 mutation.
- Another significant fact about BRCA mutations is that it is more common in younger women. If a woman is a mutation carrier then she can develop breast cancer later in life but chances of developing cancer decrease with age.
- If a woman carries this mutation and is also a case of breast cancer then the chances of developing a 2nd episode of breast cancer or an ovarian cancer episode are high.
Researches have shown that women who smoke have much higher chances of developing breast cancer as compared to women who have never smoked in their lives.
- Women who start smoking at an early age have superior chances of developing breast cancer.
- Women who are habitual smokers and are nulliparous have 0‐40% more chances of developing breast cancer then the women who are multiparous. Reason being that, a female who has never given birth to a child has breast cells that have not gone through much differentiation as compared to the mother of a baby, who has breast cells undergoing differentiation process. Thus, the cigarette toxins can be more carcinogenic for them.
- If long term smoker(11 years and above) women are on HRT (combined hormone replacement therapy) it multiplies their chances of getting breast cancer by 110%.
Are You a Mother?
If you are a mother then congratulations! Your chance of developing breast cancer is less as compared to other women due to the presence of fetal cells; ‘fetal microchimerism’ reduces the chances of breast cancer development and if you are a nursing mother then the chance of developing a breast cancer is even less.
Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills, if used for long periods of time contribute to breast cancer development. Researchers have found that a continuous use of birth pills for upto 1 year, leads to a rare type of breast cancer which is called ‘triple‐negative breast cancer’. So, birth control pills are dangerous:
- If birth control pills are used for a long period of time.
- If birth control pills are used at an early age.
Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 60, have 2 times more chances of developing breast cancer in the opposite breast, if they are diabetic. However, the ‘adjuvant hormonal therapy’ reduces chances of developing contralateral breast cancer by 47%.
According to 21 research studies in 2004, Type 2 diabetic women have more chances of developing breast cancer due to the advanced stage of insulin resistance.
On regular mammograms, those women who have high density of breast tissue(after the adjustment age) they have 4 times more risk of developing breast cancer.
- Breast density is increased when breast has more milk glands, which appear white on a mammogram while, tumors also appear white on mammograms. This is the reason why in dense breasts, detection of tumor is difficult.
- Fat in the breast appears yellow, so in a breast carrying more fats than milk cells, tumor can be easily detected by mammography.
Breast Size Enhancement Pills
Breast enhancement pills are readily available in the market. Most of them are marketed under the tag of ‘herbal way’ of increasing cup size in a few months. How do these herbal pills work? According to the pill sellers, their pills contain ‘phytoestrogens’. These oestrogens are derived from plant extracts and have similar structure as that of female oestrogen hormone.
When these breast enhancement pills are taken, they dodge the body into believing that it is going through a phase of pregnancy. As a result, body will start responding exactly how it does during pregnancy and copious amounts of natural oestrogen will be produced. Therefore, the breast will start developing in a way similar to that during pregnancy.
Research associations like, FDA and BBB accentuate that the claim of breast enhancement through pills/creams is bogus because it is not possible. But even if those claims are true, then the aforementioned products are not safe for the body. Whether the pills are herbal or natural, they can cause breast cancer by producing hormonal imbalance in the body.
FDA has approved the use of breast implants (silicon and saline), however during a research ALCL (Anaplastic large cell lymphoma) was found near the breast implant. It has not yet been proven that ALCL was due to breast implant but still FDA considers breast implants to be a very rare reason of breast cancer too.
FDA is not yet discouraging the use of breast implants. It has also published guidelines for women with breast implants that include visiting the doctor in case of noticing pain, asymmetry, swelling or a lump in the implanted breast.
Insulin resistance can be a cause of polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS) or diabetes type 2. In case of insulin resistance, the body cells fail to take up and use carbohydrates. This syndrome goes vicious if a woman has obesity. Insulin resistance suppresses glucose uptake from the blood as a result of which glucose accumulates in the body as fat cells especially around the lower abdomen. The fat cells are responsible for oestrogen production thus enhancing the risk of breast cancer.
Cancer Causing Foods
If you hit a store and consume a lot of sodas, packaged fruit juices, canned food i.e. canned tomatoes, processed meat, smoked food, burnt meat, burnt sides of South‐Asian Roti, processed rice and wheat, then you are increasing your chances of developing breast cancer. Watch what you eat.