Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Need to Know

Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Need to Know

Breast cancer risk factors – something for all women to think about. Just because it hasn’t struck a woman in your family doesn’t mean you’re safe from the devastation of this disease.

A team of researchers tracking over 6,000 women for up to six years found that most cases of breast cancer happened in patients without a family history of disease, though these patients did have other factors that can predict a woman’s likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer of the breast.

Yet the tendency to look for family history remains strong, and patients newly diagnosed often wonder how they developed the disease without a close relative with the disease.

Earlier research has shown that over 70% of primary care physicians ask a woman about her family background, but less than half collect information on other known risk factors like if periods started before age 12, or if she’s given birth.

In a recent study the research team analyzed the roles of various cancer risk factors among just over 6,300 postmenopausal women who had taken part in two large drug trials. All the subjects were under 86 years old, and none had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The researchers turned to the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, a questionnaire that allowed them to turn back the clock and predict the chances of the women developing cancer of the breast over the next five years. The calculation uses details like the age of first period, current age, ethnic group, whether they had children, earlier breast biopsies and family history. The score comes on a scale of zero to eight, and gives a percentage that represents a woman’s five-year risk of breast cancer.

The most common known risk factors identified in the study include:

– Being at least 65 years old
– Starting menstruation before 12 years old

Just about 600 of the female subjects (one in ten) had a family history of breast cancer, and nearly all of them scored of 1.66% or above, which meets the predictive tool’s definition of high risk. Over half of the remaining subjects who didn’t have family histories also fit into the high-risk category. A total of 92 women, or 11.5% of the study population eventually developed invasive cancer of the breast over the follow up of 4 to 6 years.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Need to Know

The actual rate of cancer went up with the predicted risks, as well as when a family history was present. Still, more of the total number of diagnosed breast cancers of the subjects ended up being in women with predictions below the high risk cut off, or without a family history. In other words, out of the blue.

Close to half the women who were diagnosed had a risk score below 1.66%, and nearly two in three diagnosed women had been given risk numbers between 1 and 2% and had no family history of breast cancer. The take home message from the findings – the single largest risk factor for developing breast cancer is being a woman; the second largest is being a woman over 50 years old.

But, there are some women who are at greater risk than average, particularly if you do have a family history. Medical professionals need to move beyond asking about family history to assess the risk of breast cancer. This can identify women at increased risk and allow them to take advantage of screening and prevention strategies that might help.

Of course if you’re worried about your own breast cancer risk factors, family history or not, do all you can to keep yourself healthy. Don’t smoke. Eat a healthy diet. Maintain a healthy weight. Exercise. Have regular screening tests.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Need to Know

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