It’s A Great Idea To Assess Your Risk Of Breast Cancer – Before You Get It
Today’s post is aimed at younger women and I’m doing this because of the fact that, increasingly, younger women are getting breast cancer, and the younger they are, the more aggressive the breast cancer tends to be. My biggest hope is that women in their 20’s and 30’s will read this post and be proactive about assessing their risk of breast cancer and acting before it becomes a problem for them.
There is already a lot of talk on various breast cancer forums and websites about breast cancer risk assessment, and also about genetic testing for breast cancer, so I wanted to provide you with a little basic information about why it’s a great idea to assess your risk of breast cancer EARLY and some easy tests you can undertake to do that. I also would like to address the matter of hereditary factors and will start with that first because I think that people feel it’s the biggest reason why we get breast cancer. That is not the case!
Only 5-10% Of Breast Cancer Is Hereditary
There are many things that appear to cause breast cancer – or at least put us at a higher risk – but you may be surprised to learn that in the vast majority, it is not caused by hereditary factors. We have all heard about the tests that are available to determine whether you may have inherited certain genes that have been implicated in the development of breast cancer (Angelina Jolie was instrumental in bringing that information to the forefront), but the fact remains that genetic predisposition only accounts for 5-10% of all breast cancer. The medical establishment is fond of telling us that breast cancer in the remaining 90-95% has an unknown cause, but there are many influencing factors and ongoing research confirms this.
Unavoidable Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Some of the factors that put us at a higher risk for breast cancer are pretty much unavoidable:
- Being female, although males can also get breast cancer as well;
- Certain races/ethnic groups have a higher risk;
- Increasing age;
- Having mother, sisters or daughters with cancer before age 50;
- A personal history of breast cancer (meaning you have already had it yourself before);
- Menstruation before age 12, and menopause after age 55 (these two put us at a higher risk because of sensitive breast cells having prolonged estrogen exposure);
- Having never breast-fed a baby;
- Having at least one breast with atypical hyperplasia (overgrowth of abnormal cells in the lobules or ducts);
- Hormonal imbalances (although it could be argued that this one is avoidable if one is paying attention to such things).
Avoidable Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Many other risk factors are avoidable. You can do things to decrease your risk of breast cancer even if you have a strong family history of it (like I did). Some of the avoidable risk factors are:
- Exposure to radiation via x-rays (this includes mammograms), uranium, radioactive materials;
- Exposure to xenoestrogens (estrogen-mimicking compounds) found in our environment in petroleum products (always check your body products and cosmetic ingredients on the Environmental Working Group website Skin Deep), also pesticides, fuels, detergents, certain plastics;
- Hormone replacement therapy, both synthetic and animal-derived;
- Having undergone breast biopsies;
- Excessive stress (doctors say “NO”, but my experience with this says definitely “YES”);
- Extremely poor diet with too much processed food;
- Excess alcohol consumption.
Breast Cancer Risk Assessment
Here are a few easy things you can do to help you assess your risk of getting breast cancer.
- Get your vitamin D levels checked. Most integrative doctors believe the optimal level should be in the range of 70-90 nanomoles/litre (nmol/L). Below 25 is a serious deficiency. If your levels are low, take supplemental vitamin D3. Also, be aware that your body can produce 10,000 IU or more of vitamin D with as little as 10-15 minutes of exposure to sunlight. In Australia, one of the sunniest countries on the planet, there is rampant vitamin D deficiency because for years that population has been told to “slip (on a shirt) slap (on a hat) slop (on some sunscreen lotion)” to curtail the increasing skin cancer incidence. So what happens? A vitamin D deficiency! For more information, read this 2007 study: Intakes of calcium and vitamin D and breast cancer risk in women. See also this 2008 study: Vitamin D from dietary intake and sunlight exposure and the risk of hormone-receptor-defined breast cancer.
- Get your hormone levels checked. Hormonal imbalances often contribute to increased breast cancer risk. If you are found to have abnormal hormone levels, work with an integrative doctor or a naturopath to balance hormone levels. A great book to consult is Dr John R Lee’s What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer: How Hormone Balance Can Help Save Your Life.
- Get your thyroid tested and iodine levels checked. Having a hyperactive thyroid can increase your breast cancer risk, and interestingly, hypothyroid conditions are often encountered post-breast cancer. For more information see my article Why Iodine and Selenium Are Useful for Breast Cancer. Iodine, often deficient in our western diet, is the greatest common denominator linking both breast and thyroid health, according to naturopath Dr Jacob Schor. Iodine is highly concentrated in breast tissue and suppresses breast cancer development.
When To Seek Help
If you notice the following changes in your breasts, please consult your doctor immediately:
- a lump, lumpiness or thickening, especially if it is only in one breast and doesn’t seem to be related to your menstrual cycle;
- any changes in your nipple such as redness, crusting, ulceration, inversion (turning inwards), altered shape, or discharge (especially if it comes from only one nipple or only one duct or if it is bloodstained);
- a change in the color of the skin of the breast;
- any heat, swelling or inflammation of the breast;
- puckering or dimpling of the skin of the breast;
- anything, in fact, that just doesn’t seem right about your breast(s).
Please read my website articles for other tips on how to reduce your risk of breast cancer. You might also like to sign up for my free newsletters and e-books that are full of my best tips on healing from breast cancer and reducing your risk.