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Risk factors for breast cancer

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Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in any of the tissues of the breast. This includes cell which originate from the  lobes, ducts, connective tissue and fat. Many are now picked up by screening. Otherwise possible symptoms include a lump or swelling in the breast or armpit, dimpling of the skin, bloodstained discharge from the nipple, change in size, shape or skin colour of the breast (find out more)

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Nearly 44,000 women are diagnosed every year in the UK. Overall, one woman in nine will get breast cancer at some point in her life. The lifetime risk of breast cancer depends on factors within three main categories: Lifestyle | genetic risk | other disease

National Cancer Institute has developed a risk of breast cancer calculator >>>>  Based on a series of published scientific trials the American Society of Clinical Oncology have issued guidelines that ant woman with a 5-year projected absolute risk of BC ≥ 1.66% (based on the National Cancer Institute BC Risk Assessment Tool or an equivalent measure) or women diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ should be offered drugs which could reduce their risk:

  • ≥ 35 years, tamoxifen (20 mg per day for 5 years)
  • Postmenopausal women, raloxifene (60 mg per day for 5 years) or exemestane (25 mg per day for 5 years) 

Lifestyle factors which increase the risk of breast cancer:


  • Being overweight >>
  • Excessive drinking of alcohol >>
  • Unhealthy diet (high in fat) >>
  • Smoking >>
  • Lack of physical activity >>
  • Diets deficient in polyphenols (fruit, herbs, vegetables, legumes, pulses, soy, spices) >>
  • Long-term HRT (hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives)
  • Being older, female, or white
  • Early start of menstrual period (before age 12), or late menopause (after age 55)
  • Having no children or having first child after age 30, not breastfeeding

Less certain: 

  • Use of regular parabens and Aluminum deodorants >>
  • Xenoestrogens in foods and pollution >>
  • Vitamin D deficiency >>

For tips to improve your lifestyle factors and the risk of breast or other cancers see "Lifestyle and Cancer - the facts"

Medical conditions which increase breast cancer risk

  • Previous exposure to radiation in the breast area  (previous treatment for Lymphoma)
  • Frequent CT scan or xrays
  • Diabetes
  • Previous benign breast disease
  • Previous DCIS or LCIS


Inherited (genetic) risks of breast cancer:

Less than half a percent of women carry the know genes for breast cancer particularly BCRA 1 or 2. Carrying these genes infers a significant lifestyle risk of breast cancer (>80%). Even in individuals who do not carry the gene the risks can be higher if they have a strong family history or any of the features listed below. Recent scientific trials have suggested there is a benefit for taking prophylactic medication to prevent breast cancer if the 5-year projected absolute risk of breast cancer is ≥ 1.66% (based on the National Cancer Institute BC Risk Assessment Tool or an equivalent measure) or women diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ. 

Factors which correlate with an increased genetic risk of breast cancer;

  • Number of first degree relatives with breast cancer
  • First degree relatives getting breast cancer at a young age
  • Relatives with bilateral breast cancer
  • Male relatives with breast cancer

Any women with these risk factors could discuss genetic testing with their GP


Helpful resources and links

Cancernet-UK: What is cancerAbout specific cancers; Breast | Prostate | Bowel.  About cancer treatments; Chemotherapy | Radiotherapy | Hormones | Biological agents | Complementary.  Lifestyle advice; Exercise | Diet | Smoking | Sunbathing | Alcohol.  Cope with symptomsTraveling | Insurance  | Tests for cancer | Clinical trials. ...site map
Micro-nutrient testing Empower yourself to make dietary choices specific to your personal make up. This Cancer Risk Nutritional Profile, analyses your blood profile and recommends specific dietary and supplement advice to ensure you have the best possible nutritional status to fight cancer an aid recovery from treatments....read more
Download a free chapter describing how to avoid cancer forming chemicals (Carcinogens) in our diet and environments  from the new edition of the best selling evidence based book    "Lifestyle after Cancer - the facts"
Make a will (or living will Cancernet has teamed up with a leading UK lawyer to drive down the cost of making a solicitor checked will.  This reliable, easy to use, online resource ensures your assets (money, property, jewellery, etc) go to the person you want and not those you least want. Cancernet-glossLegal wills start from 39....read more
Protect your lips during chemotherapy There is evidence that natural oil based creams are better than petroleum based creams. natureMedical lip balm has been specifically design to soothe and moisturise the lips during and after chemotherapy or after sun exposure. It only contains only natural waxes and essential oils selected for their anti-inflammatory and DNA stabilizing properties...read more/order
Protect your nails during chemotherapy. Nails can become painful and disfigured during and after chemotherapy. We describe the latest nail care guidelines and  number of useful tips to keep them healthy, including cooling and moisturizing ...read more 
Poems and cancer   Cancer is emotional and stressful time not only for the patients but friends and relatives. This emotional can inspire reflection, sentiment and creative writing and poetry. Hundreds of poems have been kindly submitted by users of cancernet. Caution: take a tissue some of these are real emotional bombshells!.. Read poems or...submit your own poem  
Lifestyle and cancer - the facts. This 2011, edition with a foreword from Paula Radcliffe has been extensively re-written with evidence from the latest research from around the world which demonstrates how diet, exercise and lifestyle changes can; help avoid cancer (read chapter 9 free), cope with treatments side effects; slow the rate of progression of cancer and help prevent  relapse.  This comprehensive essential lifestyle guidebook can be ordered online (8.95), or downloaded via kindle
Prepared for cancer treatments. Patients and professionals, teamed up with Sue Lawley to produce this 21 minute film which explains chemotherapy & radiotherapy while you watch patients, describing their experiences, side effects and methods to alleviate them. Awarded the NHS communication prize ...  read more / order individually or in bulk for your oncology department 
Keep-healthy.com Practical evidence based advice on healthy living including ways to naturally reduce cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, keep healthy eyesight, hearing, maintain a healthy weight and level of fitness. Includes advice on supplements and other useful products...link
Support groups and self help organisations throughout the UK and internationally. Links to Asian support organisations; Read patient stories, poems and links to the Cancer active website addressing a wide range of complementary issues related to cancer and their a quarterly magazine (ICON)..  submit a link to your group

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