Breast cancer affects about 1 in 1000 men, which is little less than 1% of the total breast cancer cases annually diagnosed, worldwide. Though it is more common in milk-producing breasts, in few cases, it may originate in the fatty tissue surrounding the lobules and milk ducts, hence the minor risk for men exists. For obvious reasons, the risk is higher in women, by up to 100 times, thus clearly demonstrating a gender bias.

What causes Breast Cancer?

Despite extensive studies and research, a definitive cause of breast cancer has not been discovered as yet. However, there are certain risk factors which have been associated with the onset of cancer in breasts. Genetic and environmental factors or a combination of the two present a risk base. Even then, it’s possible you may not contract the disease when subjected to these, and vice-versa.

Breast Cancer Genetic Risk Factors

Certain non-controllable genetic factors1 may increase a woman’s propensity of getting a positive diagnosis. Although, 60-70% of breast cancer patients have been found to bear no connection with these risk factors:

Environmental Risk Factors in Working Women

The two things that are common to working women (especially those with late night jobs/night shifts) are stress and exposure to bright lights at night. Our body’s normal response to stress is to release of the hormones called glucocorticoids. When in excess, it creates an environment conducive to the growth of cancer cells.

At night, our body releases another hormone called melatonin, which inhibits the growth of cancer cells. The optimal environment for melatonin release is complete darkness. The disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm (or sleep-wake cycle) slows down or stops the production of melatonin, which once again gives a breeding zone to cancer cells.

Other factors include:

  1. Exposure to ionising radiation
  2. Delayed pregnancies and not breastfeeding babies
  3. Radiation therapy to the chest
  4. Estrogen-only – Hormone Replacement Therapy (continuing for over 10 years).

A sedentary lifestyle in the workplace further contributes to increasing the risk of developing breast cancer. It is estimated that regular physical activity of about 30 minutes a day can reduce the risk in women by up to 20%. While the connection between physical activity and breast cancer is not known, studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the risk, and exercising is one of the best ways to achieve the same.

How diagnosis differs across age groups

A BSE (or Breast Self-Exam) is considered the easiest way to get an idea if there is a suspicious lump, any unexpected fluid (blood/coloured fluid), wrinkling around your breast, which could be a potential breast cancer indicator. Based on recent studies2, after the age of 50 and up to the age of 74, getting a mammogram once every two years helps in earlier detection. In younger women, a mammogram poses more risk than benefit due to the radiations used in it. Therefore, if a younger woman is at a higher risk of breast cancer, a breast MRI is recommended which also gives more accurate results for women with denser breasts.

Reducing your breast cancer risk

Despite there being several factors which seem out of your control, there are some controllable lifestyle choices which increase breast cancer risk. Modifying these can help cut back on the risk.

  1. Limit consumption of smoked or chewed tobacco.
  2. Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum.
  3. Keep yourself physically active.
  4. Be aware of your family’s history and any genetic mutations you may possess.
  5. Opt for breastfeeding over formula feeding.
  6. Go for radiation-based tests only when absolutely necessary.

An early screening and diagnosis till stage I ensures a survival rate of up to 100%. But there are cases, where the diagnosis doesn’t happen up until stage IV. It is therefore essential that you keep your eyes peeled for any kind of discomfort or unusual sighting around your breasts. Talk to your family, voice your concerns and seek a professional opinion from your doctor to know the further course of action. Stay healthy

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