Some of us are more susceptible to getting breast cancer than the others. It is the most common kind of cancer inflicting women worldwide. It is the second most common kind of cancer responsible for deaths, with lung cancer in the lead. Thankfully, with the advancement in science and extensive research done by our scientists the chances of curing breast cancer have risen but one can’t say the same for the efforts taken to prevent it. Who will benefit more from the ways undertaken to reduce its occurrence is still an enigma. Different people have different chances of getting diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s because the predisposed factors leading to breast cancer vary from person to person. However, age plays a humungous role, over 70% of all breast cancer diagnoses are made in women who are 50 or older.
Your Breast Density increases your likelihood of developing Breast Cancer
Breast density is a significant determinant in deciding your luck with breast cancer. Researchers have estimated that about one-third of all breast cancer cases can be explained by high mammographic density. This shouldn’t alarm young women with large and firm breasts because breast density doesn’t have much to do with the size of your breast. Even though for some size may matter but clearly, for breast cancer it doesn’t hold any value!
The ratios between fat, mammary glands and fibrous tissue in the breasts determine whether they are dense, and thus affect the risks. Dense breasts have lots of tissue, or collagen, and little fat. “We see that women who use hormone drugs after reaching menopause have denser breasts on average than other women their age,” said Director Giske Ursin of the Cancer Registry of Norway. This can be the reason why women using the combination of estrogen and progesterone run higher risks of breast cancer.
On mammographic images fat is seen as dark or clear areas whereas the denser mammary glands and fibrous tissue appear as light/white regions. It’s the density of these white regions/tissue on a mammogram that aids in predicting one’s chances of breast cancer. Breast density has a strong potential for a biomarker in screening programmes such as mammography. Some women can be offered an ultrasound as a follow-up because it is more effective in finding tumors.
Researchers are examining whether breast density may be modifiable by changing women’s hormones or diet. One medication that has been demonstrated to reduce breast density is tamoxifen. However, it’s best to consult a doctor before consuming it. Mammography helps spare lives by early detection of breast tumors. All women after menopause or over 50 must get mammography done annually. Even though the breast density reduces with age yet, age poses to be a danger in the development of breast cancer. Screening of your mammary glands and breast self-examination techniques are efficient tools for detection.
What increases the density of breasts?
It’s the Estrogen exposure and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The duration and amount of the hormone estrogen that a woman is subjected to in her lifetime, plays a critical role in the development of breast cancer. Estrogen is the hormone that helps in the development of breasts when we hit puberty. It is also responsible for preparing a woman’s breast for breastfeeding during pregnancy. However, prolonged exposure to estrogen can damage cells of the breast and then these damaged cells can further mutate leading to breast cancer. This is the reason why it’s advisable to have kids by a certain age. Estrogen production is interrupted while women are not menstruating during pregnancy and breastfeeding, which decreases the overall lifetime exposure to estrogen. Another related risk factor is the number of menstrual cycles. This number depends on how early/late you go into puberty and menopause.
It is preferred to decrease the prescription of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and contraceptive pills to avoid the risks. Even though at the age one takes oral contraceptive pills is the age when breast cancer rarely occurs, yet, your exposure to HRT or contraceptive pills increases your exposure to estrogen which can be precarious. A woman’s level of estrogen can be measured with a simple blood test.
Genetic disposition and lifestyle
We might know a lot about an individual’s genes and the way they lead their life, yet there’s no way of pinpointing the way they get this disease. Usually, with breast cancer patients, there isn’t one risk that stands out but it’s an accumulation of various factors which result in this unfortunate illness. It’s tough to wrap our heads around it but there’s only so much we know about this tyrannical sickness. Some women with a family history of breast cancer or those with high predictable risk due to presence of a certain cancer-causing gene go to the extreme lengths of preventive medication or surgery i.e. removal of both breasts and ovaries.
There are a lot of rumors that float around regarding red meat or dairy products acting as propellers of breast cancer but nothing has been confirmed yet. Those who frequently consume processed meat are at a risk because processing causes small amounts of cancer-causing toxins to form in the meat. Amongst the vitamins, vitamin D is known to show modest protection at healthy levels. Now, when we discuss lifestyle, the risks for most of the illnesses increase with obesity or sedentary routine and decrease when you exercise. Therefore, there’s no harm in sparing a couple of hours every week for physical activity which will put your out of the danger-zone. Obese women have increased amounts of insulin in their body which is another risk factor. Staying away from certain vices like; smoking, alcoholism will be of substantial help too.
Childbirth and breastfeeding
It has been observed that women who have their first child after age 29, or who do not have any children, are at slightly higher risk for breast cancer than women who have their first child before the age of 29. It has been suggested that the breast alterations during pregnancy may have protective effects against cancer development because risk of breast cancer appears to decrease with each additional childbirth. Studies show that breastfeeding does in fact slightly lower a woman’s risk of breast cancer. For increased benefit, it is recommend breastfeeding a child for 12 months. The decision of breastfeeding is certainly a very personal one. The knowledge that breastfeeding may offer a slight reduction in risk for developing breast cancer is just one of the many factors that will influence how long a woman decides to breastfeed.
Yes, sometimes you can do everything right yet that element of luck can screw you over! But that shouldn’t stray us from doing what is correct and necessary for our wellbeing. We need to and we must choose to walk on the path of a healthy lifestyle and be aware of the precautionary measures.
Parul Budhraja Khanna
Passionate about creating awareness amongst the masses and steering a tangible change in the healthcare delivery systems.