Causes Of Breast Cancer – Information You Need To Know
There are many risk factors that can potentiate breast cancer in women, and the life time incidence of breast cancer is 1 in 8. This means for every 8 women you know, one of them will develop this type of cancer in their lifetime. So what causes breast cancer and what are we doing to help this to happen?
Cancer of the breast occurs when certain cells within breast tissue divide in a manner which allows uncontrolled growth and destruction of surrounding tissue; the cancer cell can then spread to lymph glands and other organs where they grow in the same destructive way. This growth is not the normal growth that is necessary to the function of the body part it is growing in, in this case, breast tissue. Researchers continue to look for the different factors which can influence the occurrence of breast cancer. They feel that essentially something happens to the DNA or genes of the cells which causes the factors which normally control growth to be compromised. This could be a genetic mutation a woman is born with, it can be age, exposure to radiation at a younger age, or a host of other lifestyle issues.
There are many causes for breast cancer, but one risk factor which has been raised and is somewhat controversial is that of obesity. There are statistics from research centers suggesting that 25-30% of breast cancer may be prevented by maintaining a lean body mass. Epidemiologists note that the incidence of this kind of cancer is rising, however they speculate that our genes have been essentially the same over the past many decades.
So what does fat have to do with breast cancer? The fat cells that develop later in life tend to store estrogen, so the more fat there is, the more estrogen the breast tissue will be exposed to. Since estrogen fuels many breast cancers, this could lead to an increased risk that some researchers feel is as high as 60 %. It is recommended by the American Cancer Society to engage in 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week to lower your risk of cancer. It is also recommended that even lean women continue to work at maintaining increased muscle mass to lessen the creation of new fat cells. As mentioned above, this risk factor is felt to be controversial and not easy to prove. It has been noted however, that the risk of breast cancer seems to occur when weight is gained later in life and not at a younger age. This may in part be due to the fact that weight gain in menopausal years is often visceral fat which is hormonally more active than subcutaneous fat.
What are the other risk factors for Breast Cancer?
1. Gender- being female means increased amounts of estrogen acting on cell growth in breast tissue.
2. Age- 2/3 s of breast cancer occurs after age 55; 1/8 of breast cancers occur under age 45. Age effects the genes which regulate our bodies function and the older a person is, the more likelihood a mistake in the genetic code will occur.
3. Genetic factors- many women believe that if no one in their family has had cancer of the breast, they are not likely to get it. Inherited genetic mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 only account for 5-10% of cancers.
4. Family history- having a first degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer doubles the risk of developing this form of cancer. It is thought that 20-30% of women with breast cancer have a positive family history.
5. Prior history of breast cancer- this increases risk of a second cancer not considered a recurrence by 3-4 times.
6. Race and ethnicity- there is a slightly higher rate of breast cancer in White women over African American women, however African American women are more likely to die from their cancer as they tend to get more aggressive types of breast cancer. Asian, Hispanic and Native American women have a lower incidence and risk of dying from breast cancer.
7. Dense breast tissue- make screening harder, there is more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue.
8. Menses- beginning before age 12 and menopause after 55 increases risk due to breast tissue being exposed to more hormonal cycles. For this same reason, no children or children after 30 and less years of breast feeding can also mean more estrogen and progesterone exposure to breast tissue which in turn raises risk.
9. Previous chest radiation for other conditions such as lymphoma and certain cancers which can occur at young age.
10. DES- Women who were given DES during pregnancy and their daughters in utero at that time are at higher risk for breast cancer due to mutations of genes.
There are some life style issues that are felt to affect the risk of getting cancer in breast tissue. There is a slight increase in risk to women who have been on Oral Contraceptives for several years although this risk declines when the OCP is stopped and continues to decline there after.
Combined HRT has been shown in studies to increase the risk of cancer in breast tissue in as little as 2 years of use. This risk is somewhat attenuated when estrogen is used alone, without progesterone.
Use of more than 7 alcoholic drinks a week can also increase risk of breast cancer, this risk can be as much as 1 ½ times normal if 2-5 drinks per day are consumed on a regular basis.
Having one or more of the above risk factors does not mean a woman will get breast cancer, it merely reflects risk may be higher. Life style changes may help reduce those risks. In many cases, the diagnosis of cancer can be made early, treatments have come a long way and are very effective. There continues to be exciting research discovering new factors influencing the occurrence and growth of breast cancer, which can and will open up new therapies.
Having risk factors and an unhealthy life style can potentiate any kind of cancer, hopefully the above information will help you to reduce your risk of cancer occurring in you breasts. There are also many other health benefits to a healthy lifestyle, not just cancer prevention. Heart health and bone health are also achieved with a healthy diet, exercise, avoidance of cigarette smoking and limiting alcohol. It is not just our genes, it is also what we do to those genes.