Breast Cancer Risk

Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast are opting for double mastectomies, which are unlikely to reduce future risk.

Approximately one in eight women will get breast cancer during her lifetime; the risk goes up with age, especially in women who don’t have children. In fact, having more periods—by going through menarche (first period) at a young age, reaching menopause relatively late, not having children, or some combination of those, raises your risk. This is because risk of breast cancer is closely tied to hormone levels, which is why hormone replacement therapy after menopause or a hysterectomy also makes you more vulnerable. Estrogen is involved in breast growth and breast cell division, including tumor cells, and there are some tumors that directly feed off estrogen.

Age at menarche or menopause are out of your control but there are some things you can do to keep breast cancer at bay. Getting proper sleep and enough exercise, healthy habits in general, are specifically useful against breast cancer. People who are under chronic stress are more prone to cancer overall; yoga provides both the benefits of exercise and of relaxation. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help boost your body’s tumor resistance. Along similar lines, a study earlier this year found a link between smoking and breast cancer.

These prevention techniques, while they improve your odds of avoiding breast cancer, are not a guarantee. If you are at risk, get mammograms according to regularly, do self-exams monthly, and keep an eye out for the early signs and symptoms such as lumps, unusual changes in breast size or shape, redness or pitting, other changes in the skin especially around the nipple, and bloody discharge.

If you do have cancer, there are treatments available. Treatment may require a mastectomy, the removal of one or both breasts; many patients ultimately feel that mastectomy is a better outcome than dying or even disfigurement. However, surgery is not always needed, Radiotherapy treatment, for example, is not only effective at removing the cancer, it was found to prevent recurrence even decades later—and ordinarily women who’ve had breast cancer are significantly more likely to get it again. There are also medications that can shrink or even destroy the cancer, some of which are starting to be offered preventatively.

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