Over the past few days we have talked about some of the breast cancer risks that you can’t change:
- Breast Cancer in Families & the Issue of Genetics
- Being Born a Woman
- Being Older
- Race: “If you are a black South African women, however, statistics show that you may be at risk at an earlier age.
Today, let’s discuss the things that increase your risk of developing breast cancer — but that you can have a degree of control over.
Firstly, your weight. If you are overweight, you increase your risk. This is because there is a link between fat cells and the production of the hormone, estrogen. Estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop and grow.
Interestingly, where you carry your extra weight matters. If you have a big tummy, you are more at risk than someone who has very curvaceous hips and thighs.
The second factor is something that you don’t always have too much control over, but we decided to include it here anyway. If you have a full term pregnancy before the age of 30, you reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. And if you are able to breastfeed, your risks reduce even further. Women who breastfeed for more than a year have an even lower risk.
The third factor is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Many postmenopausal women took HRT for many years to help ease menopausal hot flashes, tiredness and to reduce bone loss. Since 2002, when research linked HRT to breast cancer, the number of women taking HRT has dropped dramatically. Not all doctors and gynaes agree with this, so be aware, ask questions and go with the answers that make the most sense for you.
There are two main types of HRT:
- combination HRT contains the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
- estrogen-only HRT contains only estrogen.
Each type of HRT seems to have a different effect on breast cancer risk. The combination HRT increases breast cancer risk by as much as 75%, even when used only for a short time. The estrogen only HRT is safer, only increasing the risk when it is used for more than 10 years.
By the way, it doesn’t matter if you use bioidentical or natural HRT or the synthetic versions – the risk is the same.
There are other lifestyle factors that put you at risk, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, the kind of food you eat and how much exercise you have. These put you at risk from other cancers as well as breast cancer.
Here is a great (free!) booklet which gives you advice about how to reduce your breast cancer risk.