Breast Cancer Risk Factors and Symptoms

Are you at Risk of Breast Cancer?

Any man or woman can develop breast cancer. However, some people are at a greater risk than others. Having a risk factor for breast cancer does not conclusively mean you will develop the disease. It only gives you a heads-up of your high likelihood of developing the condition.

Common risk factors associated with breast cancer include:

  • Age: Your risk for breast cancer increases with age, and most people diagnosed with the condition are over 50.
  • Genetic mutations: Women who inherit abnormal changes (mutations) in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a high risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
  • Reproductive history: Women who got their menstrual periods before the age of 12 and menopause post 55 were exposed to hormones for a longer period, increasing their risk for cancers of the breast and ovaries.
  • Presence of dense breast tissue: Women with dense breast tissue are more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Personal history of breast cancer: Those with a personal history of breast cancer or non-cancerous breast conditions are more likely to develop the condition.
  • Family history of breast or ovarian cancer: Having a first or second-degree relative with breast, ovarian or uterine cancer puts you at high risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Previous history of radiation therapy: Women who have had radiation treatment to the chest before 30 years of age are more likely to develop breast cancer later in life than those who do not have a history of radiation to the chest.

Some lifestyle factors that may increase your risk for breast cancer are:

  • Being inactive or not working out
  • Being overweight or obese post menopause
  • Hormone replacement therapy to manage menopausal symptoms
  • Having your first child after 30, not breastfeeding or not having a full-term pregnancy
  • Drinking alcohol 

Breast Cancer Symptoms

The symptoms of breast cancer may vary in different individuals. While early-stage breast cancers do not cause any signs or symptoms, common warning signs of the disease include:

  • A lump or growth in the breast or armpit
  • Thickening or swelling of the breast even without the presence of a lump or growth
  • Dimpling of the skin on the breast
  • Pain in the breast or the nipple
  • Change in breast shape or size
  • Inward-turning of the breast
  • Abnormal nipple discharge
  • Changes in the nipple position

You must consult your doctor immediately if you notice or experience any of the above-mentioned breast cancer signs or symptoms.

Can Breast Cancer Risks be Reduced?

Breast cancer risk factors are of two types– the ones that cannot change and the ones you can. You can reduce your likelihood of breast cancer by working on the modifiable risk factors. Here are some ways to do so: 

  • Being physically active
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and BMI
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption
  • Eating a healthy diet comprising vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in red and processed meats and fat
  • Breastfeeding for several months after childbirth
  • If you are undergoing replacement therapy or contraceptive pills, discuss their risks with your doctor
  • If you have a family history of breast cancer, undergoing a genetic test and counselling will help your doctor determine other ways to lower your risk for the condition

Why Should You Get Tested?

With early detection and prompt treatment, breast cancers are treatable. Early-stage breast cancers are localised, have not spread to other parts of the body and cause little or no symptoms. When these cancers are treated in time, they can be cured entirely with reduced chances of recurrence and minimal effect on your quality of life.

How to Get Tested?

The best way to get tested for breast cancer is by undergoing routine screenings. A breast cancer screening is checking a woman’s breast for early signs of the disease before signs or symptoms appear. Some methods used for breast cancer screening are:

  • Clinical breast examination
  • Mammograms
  • MRI
  • Biopsy

Get Tested Today!

Every woman must undergo regular breast cancer screening, regardless of her risk for the condition. If you think you fall in the high-risk category, discuss it with your doctor at the earliest and get tested today! 

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You should see your GP directly