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What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women. Approximately 1.8 million women are diagnosed with it annually worldwide. Therefore, it is worth learning breast cancer risk factors to look out for. Knowledge of the risk factors may lead to earlier detection of the disease, which increases the chances of effective treatment.

Breast cancer risk factors include:

  • patient’s age – breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women aged 50–75; however, the risk starts increasing in women over 35;

  • genetic factors – if the patient has been diagnosed with a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, the breast cancer risk may increase to as high as 90%. The mutation can be diagnosed by a simple blood test;.

  • family history – diagnosed breast malignancy in the immediate family – i.e., mother, grandmother or sister – increases the breast cancer risk;

  • intake of hormonal medicines – such as oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy;

  • endocrine disorders – disorders of sex hormones produced by the body, such as premature first menstruation or late menopause (after 55 years of age);

  • prior diagnosis of breast cancer in one breast – this brings a risk of breast cancer in the other breast;

  • obesity– this factor relates in particular to post-menopausal women;

  • inappropriate diet – research has shown that the risk is higher in women who consume more food rich in animal fat and drink more alcohol.

The above list includes the most important breast cancer risk factors; i.e., the factors with the highest impact on incidence. However, it should be remembered that 75% of patients diagnosed with breast cancer do not belong to any of the groups indicated above. Therefore, regular breast examination is an important tool in the fight against breast cancer, as it allows for early detection of the disease and initiation of treatment. In this regard, a lack of systematic prophylactic examinations is also a risk factor.

1. GLOBOCAN 2012: Estimated Cancer Incidence, Mortality and Prevalence Worldwide in 2012. https://onkologia.mp.pl/chorobynowotworowe/162061,rak-piersi

2. Choroby wewnętrzne – podręcznik multimedialny oparty na zasadach EBM [Internal diseases – A multimedia manual based on the principles of evidence-based medicine], 1st edition, 2nd reprint, edited by Prof. Dr hab. Andrzej Szczeklik, Kraków 2006.

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