Women need to be aware of what risk factors they should look out for in the fight against breast cancer. Everybody has a different level of risk and while some parameters cannot be changed, other risks can be minimised or avoided. Whereas women cannot avoid getting older, or remove a genetic predisposition to the disease, increased risk due to lifestyle choices can definitely be managed and minimised. We can reduce excessive weight, increase activity levels and exercise, cut out destructive habits like smoking and avoid unhealthy or highly processed foods. These are some of the beneficial lifestyle precautions that have been shown to have significant success in reducing an individual’s breast cancer risk levels.
Learning more about how to recognise risk factors and learning how to take steps to reduce the likelihood of the disease occurring, empowers women and impacts their risk in a positive way.
The established risk factors include your gender and age. The incidence of breast cancer significantly increases after the age of 55 and inheriting genetic predispositions will also load the dice against you. If a close family member has suffered the disease, you may also have a hereditary tendency toward breast cancer susceptibility. If you have already had a breast cancer diagnosed in one breast, you are 3 or 4 times more likely to develop further occurrences in both breasts. Other known risks include radiation for other cancers or medical conditions, which elevates your risk of developing breast cancer later in life. Even incidences of benign breast lumps can predispose you to developing breast cancer at a later date.
It is well established that overweight people have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, particularly after menopause, and it also increases the risk of recurrence.
While breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer, women who haven’t had children or gave birth later in life also have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Other known risk factors include how soon menstruation commenced and how late before it ceased in a woman’s lifetime, and whether or not she chooses to use hormone replacement therapy after menopause.
Research has clearly established the links between both smoking in younger women, and the consumption of alcohol, with the increased risk of breast cancer. Similarly, it has been widely demonstrated that regular exercise throughout the week contributes to a reduced risk of cancers, including breast cancer.
Along with these well-known risk factors, there are a number of emerging breast cancer risk factors that are being researched. For example, studies into vitamin D levels are underway and suggest that low levels in women can increase the risk factor.
Current thinking has the increase in risk of all cancers at around 30% to 40% higher, due to dietary factors. While certain foods have been demonstrated to increase your risks, others are known to decrease it. The understanding is that healthier immune systems due to good eating habits will help minimise your risks for breast cancer, and other cancers. Whereas consistently eating unhealthy foods or eating some foods to excess, can compromise the effectiveness of your immune system and make a woman more susceptible to a wide spectrum of health risks, including breast cancer.
An area of major concern in the battle against breast cancer, is the greater risk of developing the disease, due to the prevalence of chemicals and synthetic products of all kinds. Chemicals pose a hidden threat to our health. They are often invisible and insidious, lurking everywhere in our environment and daily lives.
Many of us are aware that the manufacture of foods includes chemical additives, starting right at the paddock with pesticides, added hormones and antibiotics in crops and livestock, and on through to food processing practices in prepared food. Then there is toxic agricultural and industrial runoff affecting fisheries quality, and we need to consider the industrial chemicals used in food packaging.
However, there are other chemicals permeating and polluting our daily environment that many are unaware of. Studies are underway on our exposure levels to chemicals in cosmetics, and in plastics like bisphenol A (BPA), and chemicals in water supplies. Then there have been harmful chemicals identified in sunscreen products and of course, in lawn and garden products.
There are also many studies underway to assess how much our state of mind and mental health may trigger physical health conditions, like susceptibility to breast cancer for example, and how individuals can address such issues to minimise deterioration of their health and reverse any increase in risk.
It may seem overwhelming when you consider the wide-ranging factors that may contribute to a diagnosis of breast cancer, but there are positive steps we can all take to maximise the health of our immune systems, and reduce our risk levels and our susceptibility. We just need to make ourselves aware of as many contributing risk factors as possible and be proactive about managing our own health.