No one, regardless of their age, occupation, skin color, or socioeconomic status, is immune to cancer. In fact, individuals might be hard pressed to say that no one in their family or circle of friends has been diagnosed with cancer at some point.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there were 18.1 million new cancer cases across the globe in 2018. Among women, when excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, no cancer was more prevalent globally than breast cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund reports that, in 2018, breast cancer accounted for 25.4 percent of all new cancer diagnoses in women. That figure is nearly three times as high as the percentage of cases of colorectal cancer, which accounted for the second most new cancer cases diagnosed in women in 2018.
It is understandable to be fearful of these statistics, which can make a breast cancer diagnosis seem almost inevitable. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that not all risk factors for breast cancer are set in stone. While age and family history, two known risk factors for breast cancer, may be beyond a woman’s control, women can still exert some control over other risk factors.
Physical activity: The CDC notes that women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those who are. The Office on Women’s Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, says women should get two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity weekly. This should be accompanied by muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days each week. Carrying around extra weight can make moving around more difficult, so the Office on Women’s Health urges larger women to start slowly if it has been a while since they exercised. In addition, aging women can speak with their physicians for advice about exercise regimens they should embrace or avoid.
Taking hormones: The CDC notes that hormone replacement therapies that include both estrogen and progesterone taken during menopause for more than five years can increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. In addition, the CDC reports that oral contraceptives, such as birth control pills, have been linked to a higher risk for breast cancer. Women can speak with their physicians about how to control hormone-related risk factors for breast cancer.
Alcohol, Smoking, and Chemicals. Studies have found that the more alcohol a woman consumes, the greater her risk for breast cancer. Smoking, exposure to chemicals that have been found to cause cancer, and changes in hormones related to working night shifts, are additional risk factors for breast cancer that women may be able to control.
Breast cancer affects millions of women across the globe each year. Though that may instill a feeling of helplessness, women should know that many risk factors for breast cancer are within their power to address.
Watch an upcoming television show about breast cancer on WBBZ-TV channels 5 or 67, Wednesday October 20 at 8 pm or Saturday, October 23 at noon, featuring Stuti Tambar, MD, FACS of Great Lakes Cancer Care Collaborative.