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Breast Cancer: Things You Can Change vs. Things You Can’t

  • Category: Cancer, Breast Care
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  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Breast Cancer: Things You Can Change vs. Things You Can’t

Breast cancer can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or family history. (in fact, 85% of women diagnosed with it have no family history) While many things are out of your control when it comes to breast cancer, there are some risk factors you can influence. Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

Risk factors you can’t change

  • Being born female: Yes, men can get breast cancer, but it’s overwhelmingly diagnosed in women.
  • Age: Risk and age go hand in hand, with most diagnoses happening after age 55.
  • Genetics: Only 5-10% of cases are hereditary, which means they result directly from gene changes (mutations) passed on from a parent. The most common is the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, and genetic testing is helpful is some cases.
  • Race and ethnicity: White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women, but things shift when other factors are added in. In women under 40, breast cancer is more common in African American women. And, African American women are more likely to die from breast cancer at any age and to have the less common, but more aggressive triple-negative breast cancer.
  • Family history: Having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer almost doubles a woman’s risk.
  • Dense breast tissue: This makes you more at risk for breast cancer, plus makes it harder to see cancer on a mammogram.
  • Early menstruation/Late menopause: It all comes down to hormones. More menstrual cycles in a lifetime means more exposure to estrogen and progesterone.
  • Radiation in chest area: If you received radiation therapy while treating another cancer, your risk goes up, especially if the radiation occurred before age 40.

Risk factors you can change

  • Alcohol usage: 2-3 drinks per day means a 20% higher risk. Either opt out of alcohol or stick to 1 drink per day.
  • Weight: Being overweight or obese after menopause is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Some research suggests that being overweight before menopause might increase your risk of the less common triple-negative breast cancer.
  • Physical activity: Regular physical activity (150-300 minutes of moderate exercise each week) reduces breast cancer risk, especially in women past menopause.
  • Not having children and not breastfeeding: Women who have not had children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk. Studies also suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk.
  • Birth control: Most research centers on the use of oral contraceptives, which can increase a woman’s risk. Keep in mind that once you stop taking birth control pills, the risk appears to go back to normal within 10 years.
  • Hormone therapy: Women using combined hormone therapy (estrogen and progesterone) after menopause are at a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Breast implants: They are linked to a rare type of breast cancer in which the cancer forms in the scar tissue of the implants.
Remember, having a risk factor (even if you have multiple ones) does not mean that you will get breast cancer. For many women, making lifestyle changes are one impactful way to reduce their risk. If you think you may be at risk, learn more about Baton Rouge General’s High-Risk Breast Clinic.