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.
- Diabetes and pre-diabetes with higher levels of insulin and blood sugar.
- Chronic inflammation.
- Exposure to environmental pollutants that alter normal hormonal metabolism.
- Abnormal sleep cycleand night shift work.
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.
- Pharoah PDP, Day NE, Duggy S, Easton DF, Ponder BAJ. Family history and the risk of breast cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Cancer. 71(5):800-9, 1997.
- Willett WC, Tamimi RM, Hankinson SE, Hunter DJ, Colditz GA. Chapter 20: Nongenetic Factors in the Causation of Breast Cancer, in Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK. Diseases of the Breast, 4th edition, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
- Anderson DE and Badzioch MD. Familial breast cancer risks. Effects of prostate and other cancers. Cancer. 72: 114-9, 1993.
- Anderson DE and Badzioch MD. Familial effects of prostate and other cancers on lifetime breast cancer risk. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 28: 107-13, 1993.
- Valeri A, Fournier G, Morin V, et al. Early onset and familial predisposition to prostate cancer significantly enhance the probability for breast cancer in first degree relatives. Int J Cancer. 86: 883-7, 2000.
- Davis S, Mirick DK, Stevens RG. Night shift work, light at night, and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 93(20):1557-62, 2001.
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