Discussions about breast cancer risk factors cover two categories: those you cannot change, and lifestyle factors that you may be able to change. Risk factors you can't change include gender, age, genetics, family history, race, ethnicity, breast characteristics, and age for beginning and ending menses.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors Explained

Here are some lifestyle factors that you may have more control over, and which may help you lower your risk of breast cancer.

  1. Recent oral contraceptive use. Using birth control pills increases the risk of breast cancer as long as you take them. Once you stop, the risk factor returns to normal over time. After ten years, no increased risk is found.
  2. Hormone therapy after menopause. Doctors often recommend women start hormone replacement therapy to prevent osteoporosis, thinning hair, dry skin and other inconvenient changes a woman experiences post-menopause. Combined hormone therapy, where both estrogen and progesterone are taken, increases the risk of breast cancer, and the increase manifests itself in as little as two years. Replacing estrogen alone does not appear to raise the risk of breast cancer.
  3. Decision to breast feed. The science behind the studies concluding that breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer is not 100% proven. But some scientists believe that long-term breastfeeding (1½  to 2 years) may lower the risk of  breast cancer since breastfeeding lessens the number of menstrual cycles a women has. Since some breast cancers are fed by estrogen, the lack of the monthly hormonal rise and fall lowers cancer risk.
  4. Alcohol use. Although studies on heart disease tout the benefits of  red wine, that glass or two of the red nectar raises your risk of developing breast cancer by 1 1/2 times that  of non-drinker. Cut it down to a couple times a week and use other healthy lifestyle choices to lower your risk of heart disease.
  5. Weight. The statistics for breast cancer risk factors due to obesity depend on your age. If you're a pre-menopausal woman and overweight, your risk is lower than that of a trimmed and toned pre-menopausal woman. If you're post-menopausal and overweight, your risk is higher than that of your slimmer friends. Don't think that you can be overweight when you're younger and then trim down when you're older, however. Extra pounds carry other health problems.
  6. Physical Activity. Sitting around doesn't move toxins out of your body through your lymphatic system. Lymph fluid gathers all the poisons your body can't handle from the environment and food, and all the waste products from your blood and washes them out. But the lymph vessels don't have the natural pump (the heart) that your circulatory systems has; your body's movements must pump out the lymph fluid. Get the waste out of your body, and you lower your risk of cancer. Your immune system will be stronger if it doesn’t have to continually fight all the other toxins and plus cancer cells.

A word about smoking: Although smoking leads to myriad health problems, the link to breast cancer is not proven.

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Final Thoughts

New studies continually show new links and risk factors to all cancers. Incorporating the latest recommended changes into your lifestyle can lower your risk over time until a cure for this deadly disease is found.