Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. But how much do you actually know about your risk for developing it?
As a young woman, there are many things to be concerned about: your sexual and reproductive health, launching your career, and more. Odds are developing breast cancer doesn’t make the top of your list and statistically speaking, you’re justified in being uninterested.
Breast cancer is most common in those with aggressive familial histories and since it is most commonly found in women who are 50 years or older, the CDC doesn’t recommend mammograms (a breast cancer screening) until a woman reaches the age of 40. If you’re in your teens, twenties, or thirties, chances are the only time you think of breast cancer as a possibility is when your gynecologist feels your breasts for lumps once a year during your annual. Other than that, us youngings are generally free to live our care-free lives.
After all, the main factors that increase one’s risk for developing breast cancer include age, smoking, and exposure to certain cancer-causing chemicals, so if you don’t tick off these key elements, what is there to worry about? It turns out, enough. There are a multitude of other shocking factors that may up a woman’s possibility of developing the disease, some of which you may have little to no control over.
Every girl’s biological schedule varies, but the average range in which a girl starts her period is anywhere from 10 to 15 years old. Though it’s in average range, women who menstruate before 12 are at a higher risk for breast cancer, simply because their bodies have endured more hormones for longer.
Drinking is the second leading cause of cancer, with smoking being the first. This statistic does not just hold true for breast cancer, but for all cancer risk. Women who consume three drinks per week increase their risk of developing breast cancer by 15%.
If you use oral contraceptives, you’re one of 10 million American women who turn to pills for birth control and many of its other benefits. And while birth control pills have been proven to reduce one’s risk of developing uterine and ovarian cancer, there of course, lies a catch-22: many birth control pills use hormones (high doses, in some cases) to discourage a pregnancy, an act which some argue “overstimulates breast cells,” therefore increasing the risk of breast cells multiplying and dividing. According to one study, high-dose estrogen birth control pills are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger women; the same study also showed that pills with a low dose of estrogen have no correlation to a higher risk.
BRB, while I go feel up my boobs for the umpteenth time since writing this article. What does “dense breasts” even mean?! According to the CDC, dense breasts are composed of less fatty tissue, which can complicate the results of a mammogram, as it makes it more difficult to locate and recognize tumors.
Lack of Pregnancy
Nowadays, more and more women are waiting to have children, with the average age of a woman’s first pregnancy coming in at 26 years old. When it comes to relating pregnancy to breast cancer, women who carry full to term pregnancies before age 20 are at a lower risk, while those who have their first full-term pregnancy after 30 have a higher chance of developing breast cancer. Women who never give birth also have a higher breast cancer risk. The exact reason is unclear, but this much is certain: there is a direct correlation between hormones, menstruation, and breast cancer risk. Women who experience several full-term pregnancies have less periods (because they’re pregnant for 9 months at a time, reducing their menstruation rates), which affects their hormones. Breastfeeding also helps reduce risk, as the cells in the breast “mature” as they get ready to make milk, decreasing the cells’ likelihood of becoming cancerous. For women who never experience full-term pregnancy or breastfeeding, their risk is inherently higher.