The following material is provided for informational purposes only. Estroven® products will not prevent or treat or cure any disease, including breast cancer.
Because 1 in 8 women develop breast cancer at some point in her lifetime,1 spreading awareness can be life-saving.
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re sharing information about:
- Risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing breast cancer
- Ways to reduce your risk
- The importance of breast self-exams
Understanding Your Risk Factors
Your genetic makeup, environment, and lifestyle can all contribute to your risk of developing breast cancer. It’s important to understand each and talk with your doctor about them.
Genetic Risk Factors
Because you can’t change your genetics, it might feel like knowing these facts just increases your anxiety. While that’s certainly understandable, it’s not useless information. Understanding your genetic risk factors can help you and your doctor make crucial decisions together. For example, your risk doubles if you have a mother or sister with breast cancer.2 If you share that with your doctor, they may recommend starting mammograms at an earlier age.
Consider these other genetic risk factors:
- Gender: While breast cancer can happen in anyone regardless of gender, women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men.3
- Age: Your risk may naturally increase as you age. 3
- Race: The type of risk associated with breast cancer may change depending on your race. For example, White women are more likely to be diagnosed but Black women have a 40% higher mortality rate. 4
- Previous diagnosis: A history of breast cancer or even just abnormal cells can indicate a higher risk of cancer in the future. 3
- Menstrual history: Starting menstruation before age 12 or starting menopause after age 55 can increased risk because the breasts are exposed to estrogen for a longer portion of your life. 3
- Reproductive history: If you had children later in life, had fewer children than others, or decided not to have children at all, your risk of breast cancer may be higher. Your risk does also increase slightly after pregnancy, but your overall risk will actually decrease later in life following a full-term pregnancy. 4
- Genome changes: Genetic mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA 2 have become well-known as indicators for a higher risk of breast cancer. 3
- Breast tissue density: Some women have more dense breast tissue which not only increases your risk, but it can also make detection harder. 3
This information may feel alarming, especially if a lot of these risks apply to you. But this knowledge should also empower you to examine your own situation and fight for the care you need.
Environmental & Lifestyle Risk Factors
Breast cancer isn’t only about your genetics. Your lifestyle, environment, and overall health does play a role. While these factors may feel generic, they’re also the ones you’re more likely to have some control over.
Environmental and lifestyle factors that increase your risk of breast cancer include:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet
- Heavy alcohol use
- Radiation or hormone replacement therapy
Some of these may still be out of your control. But knowing how these factor into your risk might lead you to make helpful adjustments.
Healthy Choices May Reduce Your Risk
If you’re feeling a little anxious about your risk, you’re not alone. Making some healthy choices now could reduce your risk and help you feel more proactive.
Here are some things you can do starting today:
- Life your best life: We know the advice “eat healthy and exercise” gets old. But diet and fitness do play a huge role in your overall health. As do sleep and stress. You don’t have to become a fitness junkie, either. Just add some fresh foods to your meals, find ways to move more, get enough sleep, and find ways to reduce stress and enjoy life.
- Talk to your doctor: Take some time to think through your personal and family health history. Write down your risk factors and discuss them with your doctor at your next visit. They’ll be able to talk through your specific risk with you and may even have helpful recommendations.
- Do your breast self-exams: You’ve probably heard your doctor say this, but we have to say it too because early detection is so key. You will always know your body better than anyone else. It’s crucial that you know your breasts very well, monitor for changes, and call your doctor right away if anything feels different.
When To Do Self-Exams
Did you know there’s actually an ideal time of month to do your self-exams? Breast tissue changes throughout the month even if you’re not menstruating. Because of this, experts recommend doing your self-exam at the same time every month. If you’re still menstruating, the week after your period is ideal because your breasts are less tender. If you’re not menstruating, it may be wise to pick the first day of the month to help you remember.
Not sure what to look for? Ask your doctor at your next visit to walk you through a breast self-exam so you get an idea of what’s normal, what’s dense breast tissue, and what to look out for.
The Link Between Breast Cancer and Menopause
To be clear, menopause does not cause breast cancer. However, the two can be linked because they’re both so dependent on hormones, especially estrogen. Your entire menstrual and reproductive history can factor into your risk for breast cancer. Starting menstruation at an early age (before 12) or starting menopause at a later age (after 55) both mean you’re spending more years exposed to estrogen, increasing your risk of developing breast cancer. 5
On the other hand, breast cancer treatments like chemotherapy and hormone therapy can have menopause implications. For women who haven’t started menopause yet, these treatments can lead to temporary or permanent early menopause. 6 They can also cause menopause-like symptoms regardless of whether you’ve experienced it before.
This link between breast cancer and menopause is just one of the many pieces of information you can use to understand your risk and make informed decisions.