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Hereditary, Hormones, and Breast Cancer Myth or Risk?


Dr. Michele J. Doughty, Author Brown Bag Expressions:

The myths which bombard the media daily about breast cancer can often create confusion, fear and misunderstanding about the disease. The best way to dispel myths about breast cancer is to learn from evidence-based resources which are peer-reviewed to validate whether or not they are conclusive studies. They are also conducted through longitudinal studies or with large representative samples to compare factors. The following risk factor have been found to be related to breast cancer through conclusive studies:

First, hereditary breast cancer accounts only 5% to 10% of all breast cancer diagnosed in the United States according to the American Cancer Society. Yes, the number is low, which means 90% of breast cancer diagnosed are linked to other risk factors. BRAC1 and BRAC2 genes have been found in hereditary breast cancer. BRAC1 carriers have up to a 65% chance of acquiring breast cancer and BRAC2 have a 45% chance of acquiring breast cancer. The risk is higher if you have a mother or sister/brother which has acquired the disease.

Second, post-menopausal weight gain has been linked to breast cancer. Being overweight increases risk for breast cancer. Did you know that after menopause when the ovaries stop making estrogen, most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue? Having more fat tissue after menopause can raise estrogen levels and increase your chance of getting breast cancer. Prior to menopause a women's ovaries creates most of the estrogen, and fat tissue makes only a small amount. The production of estrogen changes after menopause, which is why it is important to exercise daily and eat a nutrient dense diet.

Third, hormonal replacement therapy, birth control pills, and Depo-Provera birth control shots which are injectable form of progesterone have been linked to breast cancer. To make this clear, studies document women after they stop using birth control for 10 years have lowered their risk. You may have heard you should only use them for 10 years and stop. The evidence shows you have a higher risk as long as you are on hormonal therapy or birth control. Make sure you discuss the use of hormonal replacement and birth control with your physician to weight the pros v. cons.

Fourth, ethnicity does play a role in the types of breast cancer women can acquire. Today we know breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease resulting in many variations. The prevalence of breast cancer is higher in post-menposaual Caucasian women, however mortality rates are higher in African American and Hispanic women, which have higher invasive types of breast cancer. The shift is different for young women, African American women under the age of 45 have the highest prevalence of breast cancer from other racial and ethnic groups.

Overall, getting older and being a women increases your risk for breast cancer. Get smart and do the research to be able to discern your risk v. the myths. This can improve your ability to take preventive methods to lower risk and assist your overall health and wellness.

Source citation: American Cancer Society

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