Over the past few decades, billions of dollars have been pumped into studies that aim to discover the reasons for breast cancer. Though it cannot be said that the researchers have been able to uncover all the causes of breast cancers, these studies have helped us understand some of the causes or risk factors of breast cancers in greater detail.
An understanding of the risk factors helps us reduce the risk for breast cancer. You might ask how? Some of the risk factors for breast cancer can be controlled by us and some cannot be. For example, smoking is one of the reasons for breast cancer. If you quit smoking, you will be able to reduce the risk for breast cancer.
Race, age, family history, and genetics are some of the reasons for breast cancer that we cannot change or control. Therefore, if you want to reduce your risk for breast cancer it is best to first understand the factors that we can change.
Pregnancy, Breastfeeding, and Breast Cancer
Studies have shown that women who have no kids or fewer kids are at higher risk for breast cancer than women who have several kids. In other words, a woman who has four children is at lower risk than a woman who has only one child, provided there are no other risk factors. Moreover, women who breastfeed have a lower risk for breast cancer than women who do not breastfeed.
So how does pregnancy and breastfeeding lower the risk for breast cancer? Researchers argue that pregnancy means no menstruation cycle during that period and thus lower hormonal level in the body during that period. When a woman is pregnant and lactating there is low level of estrogen in her body. It is a known fact that estrogen is the main reason for all types of breast cancers. Thus, by getting pregnant and breastfeeding, you lower your estrogen levels and thereby lower your risk for breast cancer.
Important Point to Note
It is important to point out that if you delay your first pregnancy, you might not be able to lower the risk for breast cancer. Studies have shown that the alpha-fetoprotein increases the risk for breast cancer in women who had their first child after the age of 30. The same protein; however, helps lower breast cancer risk in women who had their first child at the age of 20 or earlier.
Common Reasons for Breast Cancer
Birth Control Pills
Long term use of birth control pills seems to increase the risk for breast cancer. Studies have shown that the risk for breast cancer can go as high as 30% in women who are on pills.
However, once the woman stops using the pills, the risk decreases over a period of time. It can take ten years for the breast cancer risk to return to the risk level of women who have never taken the pills.
Post Menopause Hormonal Therapy
Post-menopausal hormonal therapy (PHT) has helped thousands of women deal with their post menopause symptoms. However, recent studies have shown that PHT, also known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), increases the risk for breast cancer. These studies have also shown that women who are on PHT are also more likely to die from breast cancer than women who are not on PHT.
PHT that uses both estrogen and progesterone is the one that the doctors and researchers are concerned about. A combination of estrogen and progesterone is prescribed to women who still have their uterus. Doctors do not prescribe estrogen alone in such cases, because that will then increase the risk of uterus cancer.
PHT that includes only estrogen can only be prescribed to women who have had their uterus removed. Studies have shown that estrogen therapy does not increase the risk for breast cancer; however, it does increase the risk for ovarian cancer. Moreover, women taking estrogen therapy are more likely to develop blood clots and have strokes.
Obesity increases the risk for breast cancer. The risk is higher for women who are above fifty or are in their post menopause phase. Studies have shown that post-menopausal women who are obese are twice as more likely to develop breast cancer than post-menopausal women who are not obese. Studies have also shown that women who have more fat on their abdomen area have a high risk for breast cancer.
We all know that exercise is good for our health. However, did you know that by leading a sedentary lifestyle you are not only exposing yourself to host of illnesses, but you are also increasing your risk for breast cancer.
Studies have shown that women who exercise are able to decrease their risk for developing breast cancer in the future. Doctors argue that increased physical activity leads to lower hormonal levels and less fat in the body. After menopause, estrogen is produced by the fat cells and not the ovaries. If you are fat, it obviously means that your body will have higher estrogen level. High estrogen level over a period of time increases the risk for breast cancer.
Exercising also helps to control the blood sugar level in our bodies. Exercising thus helps to maintain healthy insulin level in our bodies. High level of insulin over a period of time can adversely affect the growth and behavior of breast tissues and cells.
A recent Harvard study published in November 2011 has found that even drinking three to six glasses of wine per week increases the risk for breast cancer. Those who have two alcohol drinks per day have a 51% more chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink. Wine, beer, and alcohol carry the same risk.
The reasons for breast cancer discussed above are the ones that you can change and thus reduce the risk for breast cancer. For example, if you know you want to have children in the future, then it is best to start early, provided that the circumstances permit you to do so.
Living a healthy lifestyle is something that is totally up to you. Even small amount of regular physical activity is able to reduce the risk for breast cancer. Studies have shown that even a one and half hour workout every week is able to bring down the breast cancer risk by 18%.
Women, who are on PHT or are thinking about it, need to talk to their doctors. There is no doubt that PHT is quite effective in easing symptoms associated with menopause. However, you need to consider the side effects also. It is best to avoid PHT, if you can. If you have to take PHT, make sure that it is of very low dose. Moreover, keep the duration as short as possible.
If you are a heavy drinker or you drink on a regular basis, you need to cut down on your drinks in order to bring down your risk for breast cancer. Doctors are not saying that women should abstain from alcohol completely; however, what they are saying is that they should think before they pick up that glass of wine or alcohol. Remember that even small amount of alcohol can become the reason for breast cancer.
With proper guidance and knowledge we can reduce many of the risk factors associated with breast cancer. That is why it is important to talk to your doctor and read as much as you can about the breast cancer risk factors.
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