By A’Breya Young
Dedicated to my Grandma, Ella Lee Graham: January 11, 1943 – September 22, 2020
Every year, thousands of women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer which makes it incredibly important to spread awareness. The history of breast cancer influences women to get tested, and research will provide further advancements in treatment options. The month of October is devoted to acknowledging the severity of this disease and the fight for a cure. Over the years, the prevalence of breast cancer in the U.S. seems to increase. According to the National Cancer Institute, women have a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed. When studying this malicious disease, doctors discover many risk factors in developing breast cancer which leads me to wonder if there are ways to prevent getting breast cancer. Also, what factors cause an increase in women being diagnosed with this disease?
Lifestyle Related Risk Factors
Researchers have found that drinking alcohol is linked to the increased risk of developing breast cancer. Alcohol damages DNA in cells and increases levels of hormones –such as estrogen– associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. The American Cancer Association states, “Women who have 1 alcoholic drink a day have a small, (about 7% to 10%), increase in risk compared with non-drinkers; while women who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk than non-drinkers.”
Compared to women who’ve maintained a healthy weight, those who are overweight have a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Women have high amounts of estrogen that can cause hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer to spread in the body. Fat cells make estrogen; meaning, women who are overweight are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, studying the connection between weight and breast cancer can be complicated with other factors affecting a person’s size. But, the location of extra fat is quite significant. According to BreastCancer.Org, “Women with more fat around their thighs, hips, and buttocks had a higher risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, compared to women with less fat in these locations.” Furthermore, for reasons that aren’t yet clear, some studies display results that show women who gained weight before menopause have a lower chance of having breast cancer, compared to those who gained after menopause.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause can put a woman at high risk for developing breast cancer. As women get closer to menopause, their ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone. Therefore, HRT works to replace low levels of female hormones, while relieving the symptoms of menopause. BreastCancerNow implied that HRT alleviates menopausal symptoms by increasing estrogen levels. However, high levels of estrogen help certain breast cancers to grow.
Unchangeable Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Women who started their menstrual cycle early — namely before 12– are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, their breast tissue is exposed to a hormone that’s released, called estrogen. Unfortunately, research points out that exposure to estrogen has been linked to breast cancer.
Around 5% to 10% of breast cancers are hereditary. The development of cancers come from gene mutations, which could be passed down in a family. Two genes. called the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, are most commonly found in hereditary breast cancers. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are mostly found in younger women and affect both breasts.
Race and Ethnicity
Women in the United States have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer, however, risks can vary by different races and ethnic groups. White women have a slightly greater chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer, compared to Hispanic, Asian, and Black women; however, Black women are more likely to develop aggressive forms of breast cancer. Lifestyle behaviors such as drinking, smoking, bad eating habits, and less access to high-quality health care contribute to the rates of breast cancer cases in ethnic groups. Scientists, however, are still studying to find unchangeable factors that explain this data.
My Great-Grandmother and Grandmother both lost their fight to breast cancer. However, before my grandma passed away, she beat breast cancer twice, because she always considered the advantages of getting tested early. Now, this article isn’t targeted to build fear; it’s to bring awareness. You may think you’ll never have breast cancer; but, the women, (and men), who are being diagnosed thought the same thing. It would be wise and wouldn’t hurt to visit your doctor and get tested.