Sunday, October 9, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness: Your Risk Factors

It’s that time of year again. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and as always, I want to make sure we all get some education, and help to educate our friends and families. We all know the dangers of any type of cancer, but do we know the risks? Yes, there are some risk factors that neither you nor I can change, but I still strongly believe that awareness is always better than ignorance. So what are some of these risk factors?

Let’s look at some of these risks closely. If you’ve ever studied risk in the business world, the seriousness of a risk is usually determined by its probability and its impact; basically, how likely is it to occur? And if it does occur, how bad can it get? Today, we’ll be focusing closely on the probability of occurrence.

Sex: Men and women both have the probability of breast cancer. But unfortunately, being a woman increases your probability by like 100 times. The impact can be higher in men as in women though, mostly because men don’t expect it, and so don’t catch it early. Women have more breast cancer cases because our breasts are consistently going through hormonal changes.

Heredity: Certainly you’ve heard that if someone in your family has developed breast cancer in the past, you have a higher probability of developing the disease. However, in addition to this, there are actually gene mutations that can be passed on from mother to child that increase your chances of getting breast cancer. However, only somewhere between 5 to 10% of breast cancer cases occur due to gene mutations. Can this be prevented? Probably not, if you already have the gene. But it can be caught early. There are tests for these gene mutations so people can be prepared.

Periods: As a woman, did you start getting your periods really early? Researchers have said that women who menstruate for a longer number of years have a higher probability of getting breast cancer. The reason is because of all the hormones our bodies are exposed to during our periods. So the theory is that if you started much younger than others (say around age 11 or so), and you go on for much longer than others (say after your late 50s), you have a higher chance of developing breast cancer in your old age.

Age: Well, this is another one we can’t help as well since we all grow old. But about two-thirds of breast cancer patients are women older than 55. This is why doctors strongly suggest that we start getting regular mammograms after 50. Logically, if your risk is higher when you are older, you should definitely get tested more then as well.

Race: Here is even another one we have no control over. What ethnicity has the lowest probability of developing breast cancer? Hispanic, Indian, and oriental Asian women. What race has the highest probability? White women do. This means overall, black women fall somewhere in the middle. However, you should still pay attention if you are black because black women seem to have the highest reported cases of breast cancer in women under 55.

Motherhood: This may be somehow linked to the number of periods a woman has. Women who have had no children have a higher probability of developing breast cancer than those who have had children. For me, I see a connection between the number of years you menstruate and pregnancy. If you get pregnant 3 times in your life, that cuts the number of years you menstruate by like 2.5. So back to the point around “Periods”, this could be tied. However, this is only a thought as women are still exposed to a large number of hormones during their pregnancies. Now, if you are planning on being a mother who breastfeeds, this could also reduce your breast cancer risk for the same reason.

Exercise: And we come right back to it again. It’s funny how everything seems to come right back to exercise. Consistent exercise reduces your risk of breast cancer. There is still a debate on how much exercise is actually needed, but for certain, any exercise goes a long way.

Weight: This could also possibly be tied to exercise and healthy nutrition, because women who eat right and work out tend to maintain a healthy weight. We all know that obesity has been known to increase the probability of various diseases, and breast cancer is no exception. It could be because of the higher blood insulin levels in overweight people, or because some estrogen is released from fat tissue. Who knows? But either way, it does increase your probability of developing breast cancer.

Alcohol: Researchers say that people who do not drink have a much lower probability of developing breast cancer than people who do. However, one glass of wine a day (especially red) is good for the body. If you do drink several glasses of alcohol a day, wine or otherwise, it does increase your breast cancer risk. So try to stick to one glass, and try to make it red wine.

I’m pretty certain that we all have known someone who has had or does have breast cancer. It is a serious disease. Please protect yourself, and stay aware. You only have one body, and so it is important to do all you can to keep it working right. Do a lot of research this month if you can on how to reduce your risk of breast cancer, educate your loved ones, and ask questions!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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