Anything that increases a person's chance of getting a disease is known as a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get the disease. Conversely, not having a risk factor does not mean that you will not get the disease.
Risk factors are based on statistical indicators discovered during research into the causes of the disease. The main benefit of being aware of your own risk factors is that you can minimise them where possible (e.g. by changing your smoking or drinking habits) and get the necessary advice and treatment from a health professional.
Some of the risks for breast cancer are well researched and documented while the link between the risks and the illness is not yet clear in others. To minimise your risks, however, you will do well to take note of the following risks:
Maintain a healthy weight
There's a clear link between obesity – weighing more than is appropriate for your age and height – and breast cancer. This is especially true if you gain the weight later in life, particularly after menopause. Experts speculate that oestrogen production in fatty tissue may be the link between obesity and breast cancer risk.
Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and, as a consequence, may aid in breast cancer prevention. As little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced breast cancer risk by 18% in the Women's Health Initiative study reported in 2003.
Watch what you eat and drink
Breastfeed your babies
A study published in the July 20, 2002 issue of The Lancet showed that the more babies a woman has and the longer she nurses them, the lower her breast cancer risk.
Avoid long-term oestrogen replacement therapy (ERT)
The latest study on this controversial subject showed that taking ERT for 15 years or longer significantly raises breast cancer risk.
Pesticides, antibiotics and contraceptive pills – use with caution
Breast cancer incidence may be linked to pesticide exposure, use of the birth control pill and over-use of antibiotics.
In addition to lifestyle changes, be vigilant about early detection of breast cancer. Start having annual mammograms at the age of 40. If you notice any breast changes, such as a new lump or skin changes, make an appointment to see your doctor for evaluation.