This 1 Common Thing Raises Your Risk of Breast Cancer, and It’s in Your Control

Like many illnesses, there’s a lot about breast cancer that is out of your control. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to prevent it — in fact, you might be surprised by how much certain lifestyle changes can lower your odds of battling the disease.

The battle with breast cancer is always a tough one, as it’s very hard on your body. These are a few things that affect your risk, including one (page 5) that’s a factor you can control.

Getting older

Sad woman looking out window

Your age is absolutely a factor. | iStock.com/giocalde

If you’re alive, you’re growing older — and while it certainly beats the alternative, your age is a risk factor for breast cancer. The majority of breast cancer is discovered when the patient is 55 or older.

Next: Do you remember when you reached this milestone?

An early menstrual period

woman with a stomachache clutching her stomach

Pay special attention if your menstrual cycle started when you were young. | champja/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Did you start your period before the age of 12? If so, that means you were exposed to the hormones longer than most, which can increase your risk of developing the disease.

Next: When you decide to start a family could determine your risk.

Late or no pregnancy

Pregnant woman

Getting pregnant beyond the age of 35 may be bad for your breasts. | shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

Pregnancy causes extensive changes to your breasts, making breast cells less likely to multiply or to develop tumors. But by the age of 35, breast tissue is more likely to have accumulated cells carrying cancer-causing mutations, so if you get pregnant late (or not at all), you can actually increase your odds of getting breast cancer.

Next: Some things are all in your genes.

Genetic mutations

Breast cancer self-check

Genetics, of course, have a lot to do with it. | iStock.com/Tharakorn

Up to 10% of breast cancer diagnoses are thought to be hereditary, the results of genetic mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women with those genes have higher risks of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Next: You can’t control most of these risk factors, but this is something you have (or had) complete control of.

The age you take your first drink

Smiling young woman on a cruise ship with a cocktail

If you drank a lot before the age of 30, you may have increased your risk without realizing it. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

You may already know that too much drinking can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. But according to new research, your age when you take your first sip of alcohol also matters. Dr. Heidi Memmel, a breast cancer surgeon and Co-Medical Director of the Caldwell Breast Center at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, says there is a significant increase in breast cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption before age 30, especially if the woman began drinking at an early age.

Next: Here’s why your drinking habits play such a big role in your breast cancer risk.

Why age matters

Three different colored cocktails on a table

Binge drinking is another huge issue. | Tsuguliev/Getty Images

According to an article in Reader’s Digest, several studies indicate that alcohol consumption before a first pregnancy increases the risk of breast cancer. But there’s more to it than that — how women drink also matters. Binge drinking is especially problematic, and that’s a habit that’s more prevalent in youth.

“Because much youth alcohol consumption is in the form of binge drinking, many young women are unknowingly putting themselves at higher risk of developing breast cancer,” says Dr. Memmel. “It is especially important for young women to know how important a risk factor alcohol consumption is at this stage in their life because it is one of the factors that we can control.”

Next: Clearly, your drinking habits are a big deal.

So what can you do now?

a woman working out with a rope in the gym

Exercising regularly can help lower your cancer risk. | Javi Indy/iStock/Getty Images

Of course, statistically, most women will start drinking alcohol before they get pregnant. But even if your 21st birthday is a distant memory, you can take charge of your health by limiting your drinking to two alcoholic beverages per week. You can also lower your risk in other ways, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of rest.

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