We hear about breast cancer all the time. It’s one of the most common forms of cancer for women in the U.S., per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is projected to be the fourth deadliest form of cancer in 2017, totaling an estimated 41,070 deaths by the end of the year. Besides being a woman (although men can be diagnosed with breast cancer as well), there are other factors that can heighten your chances of developing the disease. Curious as to whether you may be at risk? Here are six factors that increase your risk for breast cancer.
1. Family history
Unfortunately, if someone in your family has breast cancer, you are more likely to develop it as well. According to Susan G. Komen, chances are double for women who have one first-degree female relative with the illness as compared to those without one, whether it be a sister, mother, or daughter. More than one and risk increases by three or four times. A woman is also more likely to be diagnosed if the family member developed the disease at a younger age.
However, it’s not just female — male relatives can also impact your chances. Having a close male relative like a brother, father, or uncle with breast cancer can make you more likely to inherit it, and so can having a father or brother with prostate cancer. At this time, there’s no clear understanding as to why this is, although it may have something to do with inherited gene mutations.
The organization mentions inheriting mutated genes that are linked to breast cancer, most commonly BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase risk. Although only 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are the result of inherited gene mutations, it may be helpful to consider getting tested if you have a family history of the condition.
2. Having certain breast conditions
While not all breast conditions are cancerous, there are some that can increase risk of developing the disease. The American Cancer Society says this includes cases where cells have abnormal patterns and/or are capable of multiplying. This includes conditions like radial scars and multiple papillomas. If you have any current or past medical problems related to your breasts, speak with your doctor about what your chances are for the condition to cause cancer. From there, he or she can help you decide on the next best steps to take.
3. Alcohol consumption
According to a reanalysis of various studies, the more you drink, the higher your chances of developing breast cancer. Data collected from close to 150,000 women were compared, and research found that risk for breast cancer for women who drank increased by 7.1% with each additional drink consumed each day compared to those who didn’t drink at all.
Susan G. Komen says this may be due to the fact that alcohol causes estrogen levels to rise in the body. While it’s not yet confirmed if there is a direct relationship between increased estrogen levels and breast cancer, the source adds the hormone may help cancer cells develop, but only if there is already a harmful tumor. Since estrogen levels seem to be higher in women who drink, it may have something to do with chances of developing breast cancer.
4. Being overweight or obese after menopause
You already know both obesity and being overweight are linked to health conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure, per the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. But now you can also add breast cancer to the list. According to the American Cancer Society, women who fall in either or both of these categories after menopause are more likely to develop breast cancer than women who are in the normal weight range.
As mentioned earlier, increased estrogen levels may be linked to higher risk of the disease. This is because prior to menopause, estrogen is usually produced by the ovaries. But after the ovaries no longer produce the hormone, most of it is derived from fat tissue. The more fat tissue a woman has, the more estrogen in the body, therefore likely increasing chances of breast cancer. The relationship is still difficult to fully understand, so in this case, the organization recommends maintaining a healthy weight. Not only may this be beneficial for reducing risk of breast cancer, but for various other health conditions, too.
5. Birth control pills
As useful as birth control pills may be to help prevent pregnancy, they may increase risk of breast cancer for women. According to a reanalysis of 54 different studies, researchers found that women who took birth control pills had a slightly higher chance of developing the disease as opposed to women who didn’t take them at all. Risk remained heightened within 10 years from the moment women stopped taking the pill, but for the years that followed, risk decreased. With that in mind, the American Cancer Society suggests women speak with their doctor about possible side effects and risks linked to birth control prior to taking the pill.
6. Pregnancy history
You may not realize your pregnancy history can affect your odds of developing breast cancer, but Breastcancer.org notes it certainly can. If you have your first child after the age of 30, your risk increases. The same holds true if you haven’t had a full-term pregnancy by this age.
Essentially, pregnancy can help your breast cells mature and grow normally due to the excess estrogen. But if you wait too long, your age is really working against you. This is something you’ll really want to keep in mind if breast cancer already runs in your family or you have any of the other risk factors on this list.
Additional reporting by Lauren Weiler.