Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women across the world. Incidence rates vary widely across the world from 20 per 1,00,000 in middle Africa and eastern Asia to 92 per 1,00,000 in Northern America. In India, the breast cancer rate is as high as 25.8 per 1,00,000 women, and the mortality rate is 12.7 per 1,00,000 women.
In fact, India faces a potential threat of breast cancer epidemic over the next decades with the changing lifestyle of Indian women and the adoption of the western lifestyle. The average age of developing breast cancer in India has shifted over the last few decades, younger Women are being affected. The most recent case was of Filmmaker-writer Tahira Kashyap who was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, she is now able to lead a quality life because she was diagnosed on time. These incidences mean we need to be aware of all the risk factors of Breast Cancer and take due measures including self-examination and routine mammograms. This brings us to the top 10 risk factors:
- The first and most irreversible risk factor is the female gender itself, the reason being estrogen; the female sex hormone that constantly influences growth and changes in normal breast cells has an important role in increasing the risk for breast cancer in women.
- Second is age, with increasing age the risk of developing breast cancer rises from 0.44% for the less than 30 age group to 3.5% for the age of more than 60.
- Early menarche i.e. time to first menses and late menopause increases the duration of hormonal exposure to breasts thereby increasing the risk of breast cancer.
- Family history of breast cancer wherein if a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) has breast cancer or there is a diagnosis of breast or ovarian cancer in the first-degree relative at an age less than 50 years, then it is a strong risk predictor for breast cancer in future.
- Personnel history of breast cancer means a treated patient with breast cancer is also at risk for developing breast cancer in the same or opposite breast in the future.
- Nulliparity i.e. not having children and lack of breastfeeding are risk factors as pregnancy and breastfeeding reduce the number of menstrual cycles which helps in reducing hormonal exposure to breast tissues.
- History of biopsy for breast lumps with reports suggestive of ductal hyperplasia or carcinoma in situ which are pre-cancerous lesions i.e. they may progress to invasive breast cancer over a period.
- Alcohol consumption and Cigarette smoking are considered to add to risk factors for breast cancer.
- Obesity or overweight, as fat is the main source of female sex hormone – Estrogen which adds to its exposure to breast especially after menopause when the ovaries stop producing hormones.
- Stress and Anxiety decrease immunity to fight against diseases.
Now having known the risk factors, here is what can be done to prevent Breast cancer by putting certain factors in check.
- Exercise – 45 to 50 minutes of physical exercise at least 5 days a week will help control obesity, hence reducing breast cancer risk.
- Diet – low fat with plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoiding trans fats, processed meats, and smoked food helps prevention.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding as it reduces hormonal exposure to breast cells.
- Avoiding prolonged hormonal exposure like taking combined Pills for more than 10 years.
- Early screening from the age of 25 years for females with first-degree relatives affected by breast cancer.