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Breast Cancer (cont.)

More Breast Cancer Causes: Lifestyle, Diet, and Environment

Lifestyle and Dietary Causes

Breast cancer seems to occur more frequently in countries with high dietary intake of fat, and being overweight or obese is a known risk factor for breast cancer, particularly in postmenopausal women.

  • This link is thought to be an environmental influence rather than genetic. For example, Japanese women, at low risk for breast cancer while in Japan, increase their risk of developing breast cancer after coming to the United States.
  • Several studies comparing groups of women with high- and low-fat diets, however, have failed to show a difference in breast cancer rates.

The use of alcohol is also an established risk factor for the development of breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Women who consume two to five alcoholic beverages per day have a risk about one and a half times that of nondrinkers for the development of breast cancer. Consumption of one alcoholic drink per day results in a slightly elevated risk.

Studies are also showing that regular exercise may reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. Studies have not definitively established how much activity is needed for a significant reduction in risk. One study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) showed that as little as one and a quarter to two and a half hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman's breast cancer risk by 18%.

Benign Breast Disease

  • Fibrocystic breast changes are very common. Fibrocystic breasts are lumpy with some thickened tissue and are frequently associated with breast discomfort, especially right before the menstrual period. This condition does not lead to breast cancer.
  • However, certain other types of benign breast changes, such as those diagnosed on biopsy as proliferative or hyperplastic, do predispose women to the later development of breast cancer.

Environmental Causes

Radiation treatment increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer but only after a long delay. For example, women who received radiation therapy to the upper body for treatment of Hodgkin's disease before 30 years of age have a significantly higher rate of breast cancer than the general population.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/3/2014

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