Breast cancer risk factors, protective steps

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in Oregon. However, more women are being diagnosed at earlier stages, which is leading to higher survival rates, according to the Oregon Department of Health.

“Although breast cancer is, rightfully, a significant concern, every woman should keep in mind that there are things in her control that can help reduce her odds of developing it,” Dr. Pawan Grover, M.D., a medical correspondent for CNN and other news organizations, said in a press release article.

Grover said it’s important to understand how estrogen can increase the risk of breast cancer and how people may be consuming more estrogen than they think.

“What many women may not be aware of is that, because of the pesticides and hormones in our food, we are bombarded with estrogen,” Grover said.

Diet, nutrition and exercise can be important in breast cancer prevention. Excess sugar can lead to weight gain, which can increase the risk of breast cancer because fat cells make estrogen, Grover said.

A number of studies have illustrated the connection between drinking alcohol and breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute asserts the more a woman drinks the higher her chances of developing breast cancer. Having more than three drinks a day makes women 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to a woman who does not drink, the institute reports.

Though it’s not confirmed, some studies have shown soy may increase the risk of breast cancer because it can stimulate the genes that cause cancer to grow, Grover said. It’s unclear how much of an effect soy may have, but Grover said it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

“I would recommend minimizing it because there is still a question about the risk,” he said.

Other risk factors for being affected by cancer include older age, a personal or family history of breast cancer or breast disease, inherited gene changes, dense breasts, exposure of breast tissue to estrogen made in the body, taking hormone therapy for symptoms of menopause, radiation therapy to the breast or chest and being of Caucasian heritage, according to the National Cancer Institute.

People can take steps toward protecting themselves from breast cancer by getting enough exercise, decreasing exposure of breast tissue to estrogen made by the body, taking estrogen-only hormone therapy after a hysterectomy, using selective estrogen receptor modulators or aromatase inhibitors and inactivators, risk-reducing mastectomy and ovarian ablation, according to the National Cancer Institute

Roughly one in eight women, 12 percent, are likely to develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. Approximately 40,450 women in the United States are expected to die in 2016 from breast cancer, though death rates have steadily decreased from 1989, according to Breastcancer.org.

Grover said the decline has been attributed to increased public awareness, early detection and treatment advances.

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