Komen for the Cure

Some Breast Cancer Risk Factors May Surprise You

Posted October 27, 2006 7:59 a.m. EDT
Updated May 11, 2007 11:53 a.m. EDT

— Health experts claim regular mammograms are still the best way to catch breast cancer early, but there are ways to help prevent the disease in the first place.

According to the American Cancer Society, if every woman lived to be 85, one out of eight would develop breast cancer. There are many risk factors. Some of them you can control; others others you can't, such as genetics.

"One of the most well-identified risk factors for breast cancer is inheritance," said Dr. Clifford Hudis, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

The breast cancer genes are known as BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. If they have mutations, they increase your risk of breast cancer.

Age is something else you can't stop. Health experts said the older a woman gets, the higher the risk.

There may be some things you can do to improve your odds, however. First, stop smoking. It's the best thing you can do for your health, including reducing your breast cancer risk.

Another risk factor involves watching what you eat.

"There's no question that obesity is linked to higher rates of a variety of cancers, including breast cancer," Hudis said.

Health experts said a low-fat, well-balanced diet may help. Other controllable risk factors may surprise you.

Health experts suggest that not having children or having your first baby after age 30 boosts your risk. There is also a debate about the risk that birth control pills may pose, but health experts said early and frequent screenings should be one's first line of defense.

"I was actually six to eight months late for my mammogram. If you catch something early, your care is totally different and your family will have you for life," said breast cancer patient Susan Davidson.

Doctors recommend annual mammograms for women 40 and older, but not for younger women. Starting at age 20, women should get a clinical exam every three years.