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3 Health Issues That Put You at Greater Risk for Breast Cancer?

Posted 10-07-2014 06:39 PM by ChristaIB
Updated 10-07-2014 07:24 PM by ChristaIB

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Every year approximately 40,000 women die from breast cancer, making it one of the leading causes of death among women. Despite medical advancements, breast cancer is still prevalent and there continues to be concern about the risk factors for it. Genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2 are being focused on, but with those genes only affecting a small segment of the population, researchers are expanding their reach and looking at secondary health issues that may be linked to an increased risk for breast cancer.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, ask yourself these questions: Do I have a history of hypertension or a hormonal imbalance? How much alcohol do I consume? Your answers to these queries could provide insight regarding your risk, as all three of these components may boost your chances of developing breast cancer. Join us as we take a look at why.

1. Hormone Issues and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is highly responsive to estrogen, the female sex hormone that regulates lactation and other changes in the breasts. Women who have hormonal imbalances, or who take estrogen-based medications that cause them to produce too much estrogen, could be at greater risk for developing breast cancer. This is true of pre-menopausal women taking oral contraceptives and of menopausal women on hormone replacement therapy.

Intriguingly, although hormone use can increase your risk for breast cancer, it could actually decrease your risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer. And after a woman has stopped taking the hormones, her risk for breast cancer can drop up to 10 years after its discontinuance.

If you or someone you know is using oral contraceptives for reasons other than birth control—such as for preventing migraines and treating endometriosis—or if you are on hormone replacement therapy, consult with a physician to determine your breast cancer risk, as well as alternative therapies.

2. Hypertension and Breast Cancer

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is not considered a risk factor for breast cancer, but did you know that certain prescription drugs used to treat the condition could up your likelihood of developing breast cancer.

In a study conducted by the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, scientists found that postmenopausal women with high blood pressure, who took calcium channel blockers for 10 years or more, were at greater risk of having breast cancer. Oddly, over the long-term, those who took hypertension medications, like beta blockers, and diuretics, did not produce the same breast cancer risk.

This finding is significant because blood pressure medications are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the US, and close to 98 million of those prescriptions are for calcium channel blockers. With doctors now aware that calcium channel blockers might increase the risk of breast cancer, they may be more likely to prescribe safer types of medications, especially for long-term use.

3. Alcohol Consumption and Breast Cancer

According to Harvard University, consuming high quantities of alcohol can put women at greater risk for developing breast cancer. While the theory has not been proven, research suggests that alcohol could raise estrogen levels. Another notion is that alcohol adversely interacts with carcinogens or inhibits the body’s ability to fight off the cancer-causing carcinogens. One other hypothesis draws a correlation between alcohol use and folic acid deficiencies, stating that there is a possibility that when these two factors could increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends that women who have a folic acid deficiency and consume alcohol, take at least 600 micrograms of folic acid per day to offset the deficiency. They also recommend that women consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day.

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