Breast cancer is the most common malignancy affecting American women with one in eight women diagnosed during their lifetime (12.5% risk). There are several risk factors that can affect a woman’s risk, some of which are modifiable while others are out of our control.
Modifiable Risk Factors:
- Body Mass Index (BMI) – Weight can significantly increase a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer as adipose aka fat tissue stores estrogen. Being overweight or obese increases estrogen exposure as well as cancer risk. It is important to maintain a healthy BMI to not only lower your breast cancer risk, but also decrease the risk of cancer recurrence if you are a breast cancer survivor. Your diet plays into this as well so it is important to eat a balanced, nutritious diet and avoid processed foods.
- Alcohol consumption – This is an exponential risk factor in that the more alcohol you consume, the higher the risk of developing breast cancer. You should limit your intake to less than 3 to 4 drinks per week.
- Tobacco use – As with most malignancies, nicotine use increases breast cancer risk. It also inhibits wound healing, so it is important to quit all nicotine products before undergoing surgical management.
- Physical Activity – A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk for breast cancer as well. Ideally, you should increase your exercise routine to 300 minutes per week, but risk reduction is observed at 150 minutes per week.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – Combination HRT (estrogen/ progesterone) increases breast cancer risk. Most women must stop these medications once diagnosed. It is especially important to perform routine self-breast exams and screening mammograms while taking HRT.
Non-modifiable Risk Factors:
- Age – Breast cancer is an aging woman’s disease with a majority of cases diagnosed after the age of 50.
- Gender – Women are overwhelmingly more affected by breast cancer than men, but men constitute 2% of all breast cancer diagnoses each year so it is important for men to practice breast awareness as well.
- Genetics & Family History– Certain genetic mutations can increase a woman or man’s risk of developing breast cancer. Most people are aware of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but there are several other genes that increase this risk as well (CHEK2, PALB2, ATM to name a few). Even if genetic testing is negative for these mutations, patients are still considered to be at a higher risk than the general population if they have a family history of breast cancer.
- Lifetime Estrogen Exposure – Starting menstruation before the age of 12, menopause at a later age, and delaying childbearing after the age of 30 or not having any children all lead to increased estrogen exposure and ultimately breast cancer risk.
- Atypical breast cells – Not every breast biopsy is malignant; many are benign like fibroadenomas or cysts. There are some biopsies considered high risk lesions like atypical ductal and lobular hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ.
While breast cancer rates have been increasing over the years, the good news is that more and more women are surviving this diagnosis. This is largely due to increased patient awareness and early detection as well as improved and increasing treatment options. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer or a genetic mutation and are considering breast reconstruction surgery, reach out to us at our Fort Worth, Austin or Oklahoma City offices. At Breast Reconstruction Associates, we are committed to our patients’ overall health and reconstructive goals.