The Important Risk Factors for Breast Cancer Women Need to Know

Risk factors for breast cancer are not always clear – there are factors women can control via lifestyle changes and there are factors beyond any woman’s control, as well as those factors that are still unclear as to how or even whether they impact breast cancer directly. In honor of breast cancer awareness month, Pacific Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group (PWOG) highlights important risk factors for breast cancer, including those you should speak with your provider about as soon as possible.

Breast cancer and lifestyle choices

Your lifestyle includes the things you consume from one day to another, how active or inactive you are, the role of stress in your life and essentially any part of your daily routine. Most people are used to hearing that a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle is important for quality long-term healthcare, but you may not realize how closely an unhealthy lifestyle correlates to cancer risk. For example:

  • Alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, but this is only true when the amount of alcohol consumed is “high” (2-3 drinks per day). The American Cancer Society recommends drinking no more than one drink per day to reduce your risk of breast and other types of cancer.
  • Obesity and a lack of physical activity are also linked to breast and other cancers. You don’t need to run marathons, but fitting in at least 30 minutes of some type of physical activity each day is recommended, even if all you can manage is walking. A healthy diet low in fats, calories and sugar is also recommended to maintain a healthy BMI.

Some risk cannot be helped

There are certain factors that you cannot change through diet and exercise choices. These include:

  • You are female – of course, men can get breast cancer as well, but statistically you are more
    likely to have the disease as a woman.
  • Age – your age and breast cancer risk are closely correlated. For example, women age 55 and older have a higher risk of breast cancer than do younger women.
  • Genetics – the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can carry inherited mutations that cause breast cancer. You can be tested to ascertain whether you carry these mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Discuss this with your PWOG provider to determine whether you are an appropriate candidate for testing.
  • Family history – a family and/or personal history of breast cancer can point to an increased risk for the disease. This risk factor coincides with women who have/have had a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer.

If you believe you are at an increased risk for breast cancer, please schedule an appointment with your PWOG provider as soon as possible. Early prevention via breast self-exams and breast exams during your annual well-woman visit with PWOG are important, but lifestyle changes and genetic testing will need to be discussed with a physician.

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