1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. But your risk is different than your friends, co-workers or even your relatives'. So what impacts your risk of breast cancer? Here are 9 factors to keep in mind when assessing your own risk of developing breast cancer:
Women who carry mutations on the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer over women who do not have the genes. Another recently identified gene called the PALB2 gene is also one to worry about. Research has found that mutations of this gene found in women under 40 can result in an 8- to 9-times higher risk of breast cancer, compared to women in the same age group without the gene. If breast cancer runs in your family, discuss testing options with your doctor and your risk of developing the disease.
Your Family History
If someone in your family, specifically a first-degree relative like your mother or sister has or had breast cancer, you are twice as likely to be diagnosed one day as well. Having two first-degree relatives with breast cancer triples your risk, even if you do not carry the breast cancer gene mutation. Talk to your doctor if you have one or more first-degree relatives with breast cancer and discuss early screening options.
Your Race or Ethnicity
Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. Some studies suggest this is because black women are more likely to get more aggressive forms of the disease. Breast cancer doesn't discriminate and strikes women of all backgrounds. Make sure to do regular self checks and get a yearly mammogram.
Overweight women are 30 to 60% more likely to develop breast cancer. The more fat cells you have, the more estrogen your body produces. Extra estrogen can lead to tumor growth.
Your Waist Size
It's not just the number of the scale that matters. Women who carry a lot of excess weight in their midsection are more likely to have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Your Exercise Routine
A regular physically active lifestyle can decrease your risk of breast cancer in a few ways. Exercise works as an anti-inflammatory and immune system booster. Exercise can lower the amount of glucose and insulin levels in your bloodstream, and it can help the body break down estrogen, preventing tumor growth. High risk women with the BRCA mutations can benefit from exercise. Aim for one hour a day, five days a week.
Several studies have suggested that cutting red meat from your diet and incorporating more plant-based, whole food can significantly lower your risk of breast cancer, and may even halt tumor growth. Vegetables, specifically cruciferous veggies, lower inflammation and may help balance estrogen. Colorful produce are loaded with carotenoids and antioxidants that have been linked to a lower breast cancer risk. Also, limit your intake of sugar and high-fat dairy to protect yourself even more.
Your Drinking Habit
Several studies have linked excessive alcohol consumption to breast cancer. Recent research has found that drinking in the year between your first period and your first pregnancy can especially increase your risk of breast cancer. Drink in moderation, that is 1 drink per night or 7 per week.
Toxins in the environment, called endocrine disruptors, can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. These chemicals accumulate in fat cells, where they mimic your own natural estrogen, potentially leading to tumor growth. Common disruptors include bisphenol A (BPA) that can be found in cans and used containers. Make sure the canned vegetables and fruits you buy are canned in BPA-free cans and whenever packing leftovers, make sure to pack them in BPA-free containers. Containers that you get from take-out can be dangerous and when heated from cleaning, the plastic cracks and the BPA seeps through into your food.