Breast Cancer Risk

There’s good news for people at risk for breast cancer. Some medications that fight cancer can also lower the risk in people who haven’t been diagnosed and who aren’t showing any symptoms. The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved tamoxifen and raloxifene to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer from the hormone estrogen for women over 35. However, due to the serious potential side effects of these drugs, including uterine cancer, they are recommended as a preventative measure only for women who already have risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Being female is probably the biggest single risk. Men can get breast cancer, but only around one percent of breast cancer cases are in men.
  • The breast cancer genes, primarily BRCA1 and BRCA2, obviously boost risk of developing breast cancer. These can be found through genetic testing, or inferred in descendants of people who have had a form of breast cancer known to be hereditary.
  • Other genetic and inherited illnesses are associated with a heightened risk of breast cancer. These are generally rare, and include ataxia-telangiectasia, Cowden syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, and Li-Fraumeni disorder.
  • Breast cancer has a tendency to recur, meaning that someone who has had it can be up to four times as likely to get it again. Recently, researchers found genetic markers in cancer tumors that can help predict whether a cancer will recur.
  • Having more menstrual cycles—resulting from early menarche, late menopause, or both—is associated with a higher risk of cancer. Similarly, hormone replacement therapy after menopause can heighten breast cancer risk.

Immune cells called macrophages are normally the body’s first line of defense against cancer, but these sentries are sometimes derelict in their duty, and researchers are looking to understand why this happens to further refine efforts to help people manage risk.. A new study suggests that macrophages are part of the link between hormone levels and risk of developing breast tumors.

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