Authored by Dr. Annett Al Hamadi
Breast cancer is the most common cancer for females around the world. One out of eight women will get breast cancer in her life.
Breast cancer is most common in women over the age of 50 who have been through the menopause.
Gender and age - Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer.
Men can develop breast cancer, but this disease is about 100 times more common among women than men. This is probably because men have less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can promote breast cancer cell growth.
The ageing process is one of the highest risk factors for breast cancer. As we get older, there is more opportunity for genetic damage and our bodies are less likely to repair genetic damage.
Personal or Family history of breast cancer - Women with blood relatives who’ve had breast or ovarian cancer may have a higher risk of developing the disease. The risk increases with the number of relatives diagnosed, especially if they are close (such as your mother or sister). But most breast cancers occur in women with no family history. Women who’ve had some types of cancer before also have a higher risk of developing breast cancer
Most of these risk factors can not be changed or influenced, but knowing them as risk factors might help women to individualize their screening program and be more aware of breast changes.
Other risk factors of breast cancer that women can influence themselves are
Physical activity - Being physically active reduces the risk of breast cancer. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 times a week.
Being overweight or obese - Being overweight or obese after the menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. Try to stay a healthy weight by enjoying a healthy, balanced diet and staying active.
Drinking alcohol - Regularly drinking even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer. The more you cut down on alcohol, the more you can reduce the risk.
Smoking - Some research suggests that smoking increases the risk of breast cancer.
Use of hormones: birth control pills, IVF and HRT - Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of breast cancer. Oral contraceptives (or the Pill) can also slightly increase the risk of breast cancer but decreases the risk of ovarian and womb cancers. If you are considering starting or stopping HRT or the Pill, or if you have any concerns, see your doctor.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding – can reduce your chances of breast cancer statistically too.
The important thing to know about breast awareness, self examination or self checks is that it should not be used as a substitute for medical investigations such as mammography. Rather it is so you know what is the norm for your breasts – how they look and feel. That way if you do see or feel any changes you should report these to your doctor.
BREAST CHANGES TO LOOK OUT FOR
A change in the size, outline or shape of your breast, especially when you move your arm or lift your breast
A change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling
Any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it’s a new pain and doesn’t go away
A new lump, thickening or bumpy area in one breast or armpit that is different from the same area on the other side
Nipple discharge, bleeding from the nipple, itchiness or change in the look of the nipple
More women are surviving breast cancer than ever before, thanks to earlier detection and better treatments. Attending screening is really important as it helps detecting breast cancer at an early stage, when the cancer is too small for you to see or feel.
When breast cancer is found at an early stage, there is a very good chance of successful treatment and full recovery.
Even if you have regular screening it’s still important to go to your doctor if you notice any unusual changes to your breasts.