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Reducing Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

 


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Second only to lung cancer breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women in the United States. Only with early detection and effective treatment will it be likely to reduce the number of women who die from breast cancer each year.

There are some factors that are known to decrease a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer. Among those factors are SERMs, prophylactic mastectomy, aromatase inhibitors, prophylactic oophorectomy, and exercise. It is not known if factors such as abortion, diet, environment, second hand smoke, smoking, or statins can increase a woman’s risk factors for breast cancer.

Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators, or SERMs are drugs acting similar to estrogen on some tissues in the body such as bones, while blocking estrogen effects on other tissues. Certain SERMs have been shown in studies to lower the risk for developing breast cancer for women at risk for developing this disease. Unfortunately there can be side affects with SERM drugs such as endometrial cancer, blood clots in veins and in the lungs, and stroke. A woman must discuss with her health care provider both benefits and risks of taking SERMs.

If there is a family history of breast cancer removal of both breasts, or prophylactic mastectomy, may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer for a woman. Careful consideration must be given before a woman makes a decision to have prophylactic mastectomy. It is important that breast cancer risk assessments and counseling are undergone before making such a decision. Women who have prophylactic mastectomy may develop anxieties and depression as well as concern about their body image.

Aromatase inhibitors decrease the body’s estrogen and can lower the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Most of a woman’s estrogen is made outside the ovaries from androgen (another hormone) in postmenopausal women. Aromatase inhibitors work by stopping the action of the enzyme aromatase which converts androgens into estrogens. Negative side effects from taking aromatase inhibitors include decreased bone density and effects on a person’s brain function such as talking, memory, and learning.

Decreasing the amount of estrogen made by the body with the removal of both ovaries, or prophylactic oophorectomy may reduce a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer. Drugs may also be given to decrease the amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries. However, the sudden drop in estrogen may cause symptoms of menopause to occur such as hot flashes, trouble sleeping, anxiety, depression, vaginal dryness, loss of bone density or lack of interest in sex.

Hormone levels may reduce if a woman exercises four or more hours per week and can lower the risk for breast cancer. Exercise effectively reducing breast cancer risk is greater in younger women of low weight or normal weight. Exercise should be safe and the risk of injury to bones and muscles must be taken into consideration.

Abortion has not been shown to increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Studies have not yet proven a connection with abortion and breast cancer.

Studies are being conducted to discover if diet can be an influence for breast cancer risks. A beta-carotene rich diet, according to studies, may reduce the risk for breast cancer.

Environmental concerns have not been linked to breast cancer. Studies indicate environmental exposures such as chemicals, metals, dust, and pollution have not shown a risk increase for breast cancer.

Statins are cholesterol lowering drugs. Studies have not indicated that statins have any effect on risks for developing breast cancer.

It has been shown in studies that smoking does not contribute to a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Second hand smoke also the studies indicate does not affect the risk for breast cancer. There are many known factors that place women at risk for developing breast cancer. Women need to educate themselves as to what the risk factors for breast cancer are and what preventive actions may be taken in order to decrease the number of women who lose their lives to breast cancer each year.

For additional information about other cancer topics, please go to Women’s Health Talk .

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