What If You Could Slash Your Risk of Breast Cancer by 50%?

Oct 12 2015 - 2:49pm
Prevent breast cancer and decrease risk

October is breast cancer awareness month and many women are wondering if there is anything they can do to lower their risk of breast cancer, especially since that risk is 1 in 8.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, with nearly 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012 and second most common cancer overall after lung cancer, and accounts for approximately 12% of all new cancer cases and 25% of all cancers in women. [1]

What are the economic costs? The economic burden for both direct costs and indirect costs for breast cancer is estimated to be $209 billion. In the US the cost averages $66,000 annually in medical claims for those who are insured. Total cost of medical treatment can be as high as $300,000 or higher. Indirect costs such as lost wages, childcare, or travel also place economic stress on women and families. [2]

Risk factors of breast cancer beyond our control

Family history - Women with close relatives who've been diagnosed with breast cancer have 50% higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Age - About two out of three invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 or older. However in women under 30 who typically have more aggressive breast cancers the rate of death is higher.

Genetics – Everyone has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which are responsible for cellular repair and normal growth. However they can mutate and be passed on to offspring. Abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes may account for up to 10% of all breast cancers, or 1 out of every 10 cases. Women with an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene also have an increased risk of developing ovarian, colon, pancreatic, and thyroid cancers, as well as melanoma. There are also other genetic mutations that have been linked to breast cancer. For a full list click here.

Men who have an abnormal BRCA2 gene have a higher risk for breast cancer than men who don't -- about 8% by the time they're 80 years old. This is about 80 times greater than average. They are also 7 times more likely to develop prostate cancer. [5,6]

Gender – Women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer but it is also possible for men to have the disease. There are about 190,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 60,000 cases of non-invasive breast cancer this year in American women. [6]

Ethnicity - White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American, Hispanic, and Asian women. But African American women are more likely to develop more aggressive, more advanced-stage breast cancer that is diagnosed at a young age. American Indian women have the lowest risk of getting breast cancer.

Risk factors of breast cancer we can control

Smoking – Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds and 400 other toxins. These cigarette ingredients include nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide, as well as formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and DDT. [7] Carcinogens affect the DNA of cells and cause mutations.

Weight - Overweight and obese women -- defined as having a BMI (body mass index) over 25 -- have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause. Being overweight also can increase the risk of the breast cancer recurrence in women who have had the disease.

This higher risk is because fat cells make estrogen; extra fat cells mean more estrogen in the body, and estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop and grow.

Exercise – There is growing evidence that exercise reduces breast cancer risk. One study from the Women's Health Initiative found 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman's risk by 18%. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more. [4]