Lifestyle Related Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Did you know that there are 2 categories of breast cancer risks?
1) Hereditary, biological risks
2) Lifestyle-related risks.
Hereditary risks are those that a woman is genetically pre-exposed to from birth. In most cases, hereditary risks cannot be altered. Lifestyle related risks are those that are incurred by one’s way of living; These risks can be significantly increased or decreased depending on lifestyle behaviors that are practiced. Most breast cancer risks (hereditary or life-style related) are affected by changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. There are numerous lifestyle practices that can cause fluctuations in a woman’s hormones and lead to an increase in estrogen exposure. Research studies indicate that increased estrogen exposure may lead to a significant increase in the risk of developing breast cancer.
Fortunately, women can take the following lifestyle-related factors into account to ensure that they are taking every possible precaution to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.
- Leading an active lifestyle- It is a well-known fact that exercise has a positive impact on every aspect of women’s health. Therefore, it is not surprising that following the American Cancer Society’s standard physical activity recommendation for adults (150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity per week) will have a positive impact on reducing a woman’s breast cancer risk. In order to make a difference, it is recommended that a woman meets or exceeds an activity goal of 300 or more minutes/week.
Leading an active lifestyle can lower breast cancer risk in the following ways:
1. Contributing to a healthy weight.
2. Regulating hormones: Frequent physical activity has the capability of lowering insulin and estrogen levels, which are the two major hormones that contribute to breast cancer risk.
3. Boosting the body’s immune system, which can help kill or slow the growth of cancer cells.
- Limiting Alcohol Consumption– The amount of alcohol that a woman consumes is directly correlated with the percentage of increase in breast cancer risk. According to the American Cancer Society, Women who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a 7% to 10% increase in risk compared to a woman’s risk who does not drink alcohol. Women who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk than those who do not drink alcohol.
Alcohol consumption can increase a woman’s breast cancer risk in the following ways:1. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to weight gain, which contributes to breast cancer risk.
2. Alcohol has the ability to alter the metabolization of estrogen in a woman’s body. Women who drink alcohol have higher estrogen levels than women who do not, which can lead to an increase in risk.
Women can safely enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation. However, one must be sure not to allow the consumption of alcoholic beverages to become routine.
- Being classified as overweight or obese post-menopause- Being clinically overweight or obese at any age increases a woman’s risk for various cancers and diseases. However, obesity is especially dangerous for post-menopausal women due to the role of fat tissue in the production of estrogen.
There are two producers of estrogen in a woman’s body: the ovaries and fat. Pre-menopause, the ovaries are the main powerhouse of estrogen production. After menopause, estrogen production from the ovaries comes to a halt, and most of a woman’s estrogen is produced by fat tissue. The amount of fat tissue present and the amount of estrogen produced has a direct relationship. Therefore, the more fat tissue that a post-menopausal woman has, the higher her estrogen levels will be and the higher her risk of developing breast cancer.
- Hormone Therapy After Menopause: Many women who find their experience of menopause rather unbearable opt to undergo hormone therapy to alleviate their symptoms. Hormone therapy works by means of estrogen and progesterone. There are numerous forms of hormone therapy that range in dosage strength, medication form, and different combinations of hormones, each of which has its own potential risk factors of increasing a woman’s probability of developing breast cancer. Research has indicated that combination hormone replacement therapy may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 75%. Hormone therapy that utilizes estrogen only may increase breast cancer risk if taken for 10 years or longer.
- Birth Control: A highly debated and controversial topic is whether or not the use of birth control contributes to an increase in a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
The use of birth control has long been a suspect of increasing breast cancer risk as a result of most birth control methods working by the use of hormones, which may over time increase the risk of breast cancer.
Countless expert researchers have conducted in-depth studies on this topic, but a definite answer on whether or not birth control increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer remains inconclusive, as many factors specific to the individual patient must be taken into consideration.
Recent research studies consider the duration of time a woman used birth control, age, and how long ago she began/stopped usage to be of direct correlation with an increase in breast cancer risk. It is recommended that every woman who is considering taking birth control has a discussion regarding the possible increased risk of breast cancer with her healthcare provider who can take into consideration his/her knowledge of the patient’s overall health.
- Reproductive History- Reproductive history has an effect on breast cancer risk due to the effect that pregnancy places on the number of menstrual cycles that a woman experiences throughout her lifetime.
Research has indicated that the following pregnancy-related factors have been associated with a reduced risk of developing breast cancer later in life:
1. Having a first full-term pregnancy at an early age.
2. Having more than one full-term pregnancy.
3. Having a history of preeclampsia.
Therefore, reproductive factors that may increase the risk of breast cancer include: Having no biological children, giving birth to your first child after age 30, and having children but opting to not breastfeed.
5. Breastfeeding- Breastfeeding for a prolonged period of time, (a year or longer) may reduce a woman’s breast cancer risk.
This is due to the fact that breastfeeding may lead to a temporary cessation of menstrual periods during the duration of time that a woman is actively breastfeeding, which decreases the total number of menstrual periods a woman experiences in her lifetime. As a result, women who breastfeed may have lower estrogen levels.