We are all susceptible but it depends on many things.
Are you at risk?
Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women. Breast Cancer can also affect men but is relatively rare. 1 in 7 women will be affected in their lifetime and around 380 men will be diagnosed per year
early puberty (starting periods before age 12)
reaching menopause late (over 55 – the average age is 52) This is due to the increased time oestrogens are in our body.
Most breast cancer occurs in women over 50 years old and men over 60 years old.
Being Tall! This is possibly due to the higher level of growth hormones in early years.
What you can’t change:
Women typically have more breast tissue than men. Women also have a higher exposure to oestrogen. Oestrogen can stimulate cell growth, division and promote the growth of some cancers.
Higher Breast density is genetic and can be influenced by environment and changes during a woman’s lifetime. This can increase the risk of breast cancer – please note it is tissue density not fat! This can only be measured on a mammogram. Mammograms can be unclear for those with dense breasts, in this instance an ultrasound scan would be more appropriate.
What you can change
There are many factors which can affect whether you get Breast Cancer, some are genetic, the others are environmental and life choices including diet, weight and smoking.
Some benign (non cancerous) breast conditions (most benign do not increase the risk) but people who have atypical hyperplasia or lobular neoplasia have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.
Family history doesn’t always mean a higher risk
Family history doesn’t always mean a higher risk. However, significant family history should be investigated. The NHS runs a family history programme, accessed via your GP. If you have a direct family member i.e. mother, sibling or daughter, who has developed breast cancer at a young age, this can increase your risk.
It is also possible to be tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA genes.
The Pill - taking the combined contraceptive pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer. This pill contains both oestrogen and progestogen. Within a few years of stopping taking it, this risk disappears.
Regularly drinking alcohol is associated with a higher risk of developing Breast Cancer. Limiting the amount you drink can reduce your risk.
Being overweight/obese can increase your risk, especially after the menopause.
Lack of physical activity affects your risk as it reduces the production of certain hormones and growth.
Smoking is now being more linked to Breast Cancer (evidence is growing) and it is considered the younger the woman is when she starts smoking, the higher the risk
Pregnancy & breast feeding are proven to have a complex effect on Breast Cancer risk and overall breast feeding and pregnancy slightly reduces the risk of Breast Cancer
HRT is known to increase your risk. The risk is significally increased when using a combination medication. This is due to the oestrogen and progestogen being used. The single hormone type (oestrogen only) is known to increase risks but only after long term use, although it can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Both should be carefully discussed with your GP when carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
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