According to the American Cancer Society, “a risk factor is anything that increases your chances of getting a disease, such as breast cancer. But having a risk factor, or many, does not mean that you are sure to get cancer or another disease. “As with many things in life, some things we have control over, while others we don’t. Our best bet in reducing our risk for breast cancer is to arm ourselves with knowledge. The more we know about what causes breast cancer, how we can detect it early, and what are we doing in our lives (or not doing) helps reduce our risk and can contribute to a longer life free of breast cancer or lesser burden of the disease.
Breast cancer has risk factors that are both controllable and non-controllable. Many of the controllable factors, not only increase our chances of getting breast cancer or other cancers, but other diseases as well. One of the most common controllable risk factors includes obesity. The more a person weighs and/or remains overweight the higher their risk. “Obesity is associated with an increase in circulating levels of estrogen, insulin, and other growth factors, which can promote the development and growth of cancer cells.” Menopausal women who remain obese increase the amount of estrogen which can lead to breast cancer.
Additional controllable risk factors that can lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer or other cancers include later-age pregnancies, not having children, taking birth control, choosing not to breastfeed, and breast implants. The less active a person is, the higher their chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The more things we can control the better, we can increase our chances of a longer life free from cancer.
Although there are many things we can control, the fact remains there are a lot of things that we cannot, for example, who we are when we were born. One main risk factor that is simply uncontrollable is being a female. Although men can also have breast cancer, women are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease. Add in our race and our height, and our risk increases even more. White women have a higher risk than African Americans, and taller women have a greater risk than shorter women. As we grow older, our risk of being diagnosed continues to increase, especially for women over 55 years old.
Our family history also plays a big role in our risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the CDC, if a person has a “strong family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, you may have a high risk of getting breast. You may also have a high risk for ovarian cancer.” “Having a family history increases cancer risk in both genders.”
Breast cancer doesn’t attack a person solely based on what they can and cannot control in life. No one is immune from the possibility of one-day hearing, “you have cancer.” We can however try our best to reduce our risk by controlling what we can, performing self-breast exams, and having a mammogram. The greatest defense we have in the fight against breast cancer, is knowing all the risks we face.