There is a link between mothers, daughters and cancer risk.
Just because your mom had breast cancer does not mean that you will be struck with breast cancer as well. The causes of cancer are complex. Not only genetics, but lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and sleep habits as well as your exposures to environmental cancer-causing chemicals (including body care products and cosmetics) contribute to the development of cancer.
For women, cancers that most commonly run in families include breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer and colon cancer. That is why we encourage self exams and screening tests for these cancers. These tests save lives.
In fact, only 13 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have an immediate relative such as a mother, aunt or sister who had breast cancer. Only 5-10 percent of all breast cancers are linked to the deadly aggressive BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes. For most breast cancers, family history is not the primary factor. However, a woman who has one immediate female relative with breast cancer will have double the risk and a woman with more than one relative with a history of breast cancer will have three or four times the risk of getting breast cancer. Know your family history. Ask your doctor if your should be tested.
You can also use the National Cancer Institute's Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool to discover your risk of breast cancer.
Even if you inherited high risk genes for cancer, those genes have on and off switches, some of which are influenced by your lifestyle choices. Genes are not fate; genes are potential.
Along with genetics, these lifestyle-related risk factors tip the balance toward a pro-cancer physiology. Make different choices, and you can shift toward a healthy anti-cancer physiology:
- High body fat due to obesity and being overweight.
Additonal factors that increase risk of breast cancer include having children late in life or having no or few children or not breastfeeding. For women who have more children, nurse them and have them at a younger age, this gives them a break from lifelong estrogen exposures. According to the National Cancer Institute, when a woman's reproductive history leads to more exposure to estrogen over her lifetime, her risk for some cancers such as breast cancer will be increased.
What can you do to lower cancer risk? Here are the most important steps you can take now:
To Learn How to Recognize Symptoms and Signs of Cancer: Read Signs of Women's Cancers: A Healthy Woman Checklist
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- Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Familial breast cancer: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 52 epidemiological studies including 58,209 women with breast cancer and 101,986 women without the disease. Lancet. 358: 1389-99, 2001.
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