Breast cancer is a disease in which certain cells in the breast start multiplying abnormally. Two types of breast cancer are common –
1. Ductal cancer in which the cells lining the ducts that carry milk to the nipple multiply uncontrollably and
2. Lobular cancer in which the glands that produce milk form a malignant tumor.
If the malignant tumor spreads into nearby tissues it is called invasion. Sometimes, the cells spread to other parts of the body, such as lungs, liver, bones, or brain, through the blood stream and the lymphatic system. This process is known as metastasis.
The WHO fact sheet reveals that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. About 1.7 million cases worldwide have been diagnosed in 2007 out of which approximately 465,000 women lost their lives to breast cancer. However, new evidence suggests that breast cancer survival rates are much higher than before due to rising awareness about the disease, early detection, and better treatment.
Although we do not exactly know what causes breast cancer, there are many factors that contribute to the risk of developing this dreaded disease. Medical scientists believe that hormone may have a role in the development of breast cancer but how it happens is not yet clear. Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you have a risk factor, you are certain to get breast cancer. There are cases where women may have no risk factors but they do get breast cancer, while some women may not develop the disease despite having one or more risk factors.
There are certain risk factors that you cannot change and your lifestyle has no role in developing them. A family history of breast cancer and inherited genetic mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are two such risk factors. A recent research confirmed that the increased risk of breast cancer associated with genes is not affected by lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, HRT, obesity and the like.
Gender and age are other non-modifiable factors likely to cause breast cancers. For example, women are at a much higher risk for breast cancer as compared to men. Men, too, may get the disease but it is too rare. Similarly, the chance of getting breast cancer increases as a woman gets older. Statistics show that about two out of three women with invasive breast cancer are 55 or older.
Race and geographical location can also be high risk, non-lifestyle factors for breast cancer. Most Western countries are reported to have higher incidence of breast cancer as against African or Asian countries. It has been observed that African-American women seem to have faster growing tumors.
Dense breast tissue, periods beginning before the age 12, menopause after the age of 55, radiation treatment for other type of cancer, and treatment with DES (diethylstilbestrol) for lowering chances of miscarriage are other risk factors that cannot be modified or controlled.
This said, there are a number of risk factors for breast cancer that can be caused by lifestyle choices. Some of these – use of birth control pills, high fat diet, abortion, breast implants, pollution, and tobacco smoke – are ‘uncertain’ risk factors because research studies did not find any conclusive breast cancer causing evidence against them. But there are certain lifestyle choices that may cause breast cancer in women. These lifestyle choices and their preventive measures are discussed here.