Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast divide and grow uncontrolled. The cell cycle is the natural mechanism that regulates the growth and death of cells. When normal cell regulators malfunction and cells don’t die at the proper rate, cell growth goes unchecked and cancer can develop. Breast cancer tumors usually grow slowly. By the time a tumor is large enough to be felt as a lump, it may have been growing for 10 years and spread of tumor cells (metastasis) may have already occurred. Therefore, screening methods (via mammography, ultrasound, MRI, or thermography) are very important. In addition, preventive measures such as a healthy diet and lifestyle, nutritional supplementation, and exercise are crucial.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
It’s helpful to categorize modifiable risk factors from those that cannot be changed. Most breast cancer risk factors are modifiable, meaning they can be changed based on daily choices regarding diet, exercise, lifestyle habits, and stress management.
Non-modifiable risk factors:
Family history (BRCA1 or 2)
Early age menarche (first menstrual period)
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) use by mother
Modifiable risk factors:
Obesity (nearly triples risk)
Lack of exercise
Synthetic HRT, especially progestins
Birth control pill use
High animal and trans fats/low fiber/low fruit and vegetable diet
Late age pregnancy, never having been pregnant, lack of breast feeding
High alcohol intake (>1 drink per day)
Working the “graveyard” shift Environmental toxins (radiation, xenoestrogens, secondhand smoke)
Benign breast disease (fibrocystic breast changes/disease may or may not increase risk)