Most Common Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, established in 1985, is intended to educate and empower women to take control of their own breast health and become advocates for themselves and their fellow women. Since then, men and women alike wear pink ribbons to celebrate those who have overcome breast cancer, support those actively fighting the disease, and grieve those who have succumbed every year. 

This October, Dr. Melissa Delgado and our experienced team of women’s healthcare professionals, Wendy Roberts, CANP and Amanda McClay, CNM, WHNP-BC, take a moment to educate our patients on this all-too-common disease, because recognizing the prevalence of risk factors in your own life is the key to getting treatment as soon as possible. 

Breast cancer basics

Your breasts are beautiful, but they aren’t just for show. They’re complex parts of your anatomy with an important job. In addition to the fat and muscle that give breasts their shape, there’s an intricate network of ducts and glands dedicated to producing, carrying, and dispensing milk. 

Most breast cancers begin when cells start to grow out of control, forming small, hard lumps in your otherwise soft and spongy breast tissue. 

You and your doctor can catch breast cancer early with a simple breast examination or with a special imaging machine called a mammogram. Getting regular examinations is crucial because breast cancer can grow and spread to your lymph nodes and the rest of your body. 

About one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Fortunately, due to advancements in treatments, the death rate dropped 1.3% each year from 2013-2017. A big part of beating cancer is detecting it early, which is why getting diagnosed as soon as possible is the best way to avoid complications. 

Risk factors for breast cancer

In addition to breast self-exams, an important factor in catching breast cancer early or avoiding it altogether is to understand the risk factors. Here are the most common risk factors for breast cancer. 

Getting older

As your age increases, so does your risk of getting breast cancer. In fact, most breast cancers are diagnosed in women over 50 years old. 

Genetic predisposition

There are certain genetic mutations that, if present in your DNA, put you at greater risk for developing cancer. There are simple tests you can take to find out if you or a loved one carries the gene. 

Personal health history

Your own health history has a huge impact on whether or not you get breast cancer. 

For example, if you started your period before age 12 or started menopause after 55, your chances go up. 

Other personal health and lifestyle factors that increase your risk of breast cancer include:

You have no control over some of these risk factors, but others are well within your purview to change. 

Family history

If breast cancer runs in your immediate family, you’re likely to get it yourself. Be sure to talk to your sister, mother, grandmother, aunts, daughter, and other first-degree relatives — including men, who can also develop breast cancer — about your family’s history. 

Breast anatomy

If you have dense breasts, breast cancer is more likely to start and spread. Moreover, dense breasts have more connective tissue and fat, which can make cancerous growths hard to detect during an examination or mammogram. 

We believe that true wellness involves every aspect of your body, mind, and spirit, so we care for you head-to-toe, inside-out. That’s why we’re bringing awareness to a disease that affects so many women every year. 

For more information, or to schedule an appointment for other female health concerns, call our Vienna, Virginia office at 571-261-8069, or schedule an appointment online.

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