Updated: May 8
This week, we'll be looking at eight risk factors associated with breast cancer. A risk factor is a characteristic that increases the likelihood of developing cancer.
Being female is the highest risk factor for developing breast cancer. Breast cancer in males, while rare, does occur in about 1% of breast cancer cases.
Your risk of getting breast cancer increases with age. As we get older, it is more likely that abnormal changes will take place in our cells. The majority of breast cancer cases are seen in women between 40 to 69 years old. However, there have been cases where women as young as in their early twenties have been diagnosed with breast cancer in Singapore.
3. Family History
You are at higher risk for developing breast cancer if your mother, sister or daughter has or had breast cancer. Family history of breast cancer can be due to factors such as lifestyle or associated with specific genetic mutations. To date, researchers have found two genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2 – that, if defective, can increase susceptibility to breast cancer.
4. Previous History
Women who have had breast cancer or benign breast disease such as hyperplasia have a higher risk of getting breast cancer. Hyperplasia is an overgrowth of the cells that line the lobules (milk-producing glands) or ducts (small tubes) inside the breast.
Studies have also shown that being exposed for a long time and/or to high levels of oestrogen has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. You are at higher risk for developing breast cancer if:
you had started to menstruate early (before 12),
have experienced late menopause (after age 55),
had your first child after the age of 30 or have no children at all.
or have prolonged use (5 years or more) of oestrogen replacement therapy after menopause.
After menopause, most estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can raise estrogen levels and increase one's chances of developing breast cancer.
Several studies have been done on the association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk in women. They suggest a link between alcohol intake on a regular basis with an increased risk of breast cancer. Alcohol may increase risk by altering the way a woman’s body metabolises oestrogen. This may cause blood oestrogen levels to rise, which may in turn increase the risk of breast cancer.
8. Lack of Physical Activity
Exercise may lower breast cancer risk by delaying the onset of menstruation, reducing the frequency of regular periods and helping to maintain a healthy weight. Each of these can help decrease the total amount of oestrogen a woman is exposed to in her lifetime. Low to moderate levels of physical activity may enhance the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells or slow their growth rate.
Assessing Your Personal Risk Checklist:
I am a woman aged 40 or above:
▢ Yes ▢ No
I have been previously diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer:
▢ Yes ▢ No
My mother, sister, and/or daughter have tested positive for a gene mutation that is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer (i.e. BRCA1 or BRCA2):
▢ Yes ▢ No
I have tested positive for a gene mutation that is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer (i.e. BRCA1 or BRCA2):
▢ Yes ▢ No
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, please talk to your doctor about any concerns you have. If you are concerned about a lump in your breast, consult with your doctor. If you are over the age of 40, or have a mother or sister over 40, it is advisable for you or her to go for a mammogram screening, even if you have no risk factors. Four in five women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known risk factors. Subsidised screenings are available. Early detection can save lives.
If you're interested in learning more about breast cancer, read our previous Dream Letters:
Join us in making a difference! To help support the fight against breast cancer and those affected by it, part of the proceeds at Dreamline Aesthetics and Dreamline Bodyclinic will be donated to the Breast Cancer Foundation.