Breast Cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women of all races, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Men are also diagnosed with the disease, but, the incidence rate is relatively rare in comparison to women: According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the ratio of female to male breast cancer in the U.S. is 100 to 1.1). While many of the causes of breast cancer are un-preventable, there are many things that women can do to lessen their risk of becoming ill.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and annually, in an effort to spread greater attention to the prevention of this disease, the world is painted pink in support of those who have, have had, or have lost someone to the disease.
As someone who has seen the devastating effects of this disease in a loved one, it is important to know what the risk factors are for breast cancer, and what we, as young women, can do about it.
Now, while awareness is absolutely important, it is also necessary not to be alarmist about the risk of breast cancer. Especially with such diseases, we are limited to doing the best we can and leaving the rest to fate. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, there are several risk factors: Age (most women are diagnosed later in life), Menstrual and Reproductive History (early menstruation or late menopause, having a child at an older age, or taking birth control pills for longer than 10 years while under the age of 35), Family and Personal History (if a mother or a sister has had breast cancer, or if you yourself had a history of benign, or non-cancerous breast disease), Weight (being obese or overweight) and Diet and Lifestyle (living a sedentary lifestyle and consuming a diet high in saturated fat, and alcoholic intake of more than two drinks per day.) The latter two risk factors are what should be tackled, since it is within our control.
Maintaining a healthy weight, BMI, and making sure that you maintain a healthy and active lifestyle will not only keep you healthy, but also keep stress hormones at bay, which is always a helpful way of lessening the risk of breast cancer.
If you, much like so many others, have a history of breast cancer, there are ways to get tested, such as the BRCA gene test. If a doctor determines that you have a strong history of breast cancer, then, they can refer you to get the exam. A note of caution: the exam can be quite costly, but for those of you that are concerned about the prospect of having the gene, it may be worth it for peace of mind. (There are also ways to lessen the cost, such as seeing a county-appointed gene counselor to determine your eligibility for the testing.)
The sincere hope for all of those that have lost a loved one to, suffered from, or been lucky enough to conquer the disease is that one of these years, we will have eliminated the disease entirely. In the meantime, it is contingent upon us to do the best we can to lessen our risk in any and every way possible.