October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but women need to be vigilant all year long in the fight against breast cancer. Especially women who don’t want children.
Child free women should be concerned, because we all have one of the risk factors – not having a child before the age of 30. Now, of course this does not mean that if you don’t have children you will definitely get breast cancer, or that no mother will ever be diagnosed. But medical research has shown a possible link between breast cancer and delaying pregnancy or not having children at all.
The facts are rather complex.
According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s website, “…women who give birth for the first time after age 30 are up to twice as likely to develop breast cancer as women who have their first child before age 20.” However, women who have children over the age of 35 have a slightly higher risk for breast cancer than women who don’t have children at all.
But one of the officially recognized breast cancer risk factors is listed as “Not Having Children or Having a Child After Age 30.” If you are in your 30s or 40s, and are trying to decide whether or not to have children, the increased risk of breast cancer may play into your decision.
If you have chosen to remain child free, the best course of action is to be aware of your increased risk, reduce any other risk factors you can control (don’t smoke or drink excessively, maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly), and understand any additional risk factors that are beyond your control (family history, starting your period before age 12, going through menopause before age 55).
Medical professionals agree that early detection is the single greatest factor that will decrease your chances of dying from breast cancer. That means visiting your doctor annually for a clinical breast exam, performing a monthly self breast exam at home, and having regular mammograms.
My mother had breast cancer when she was 28 years old, and thankfully is a survivor 25 years later. My dad’s sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her mid-50s. She too caught it early enough to save her life. So I have a history on both sides of the family tree.
There has been very little research done on younger women who have had breast cancer, and even less on the daughters of those who have been diagnosed young. I get yearly mammograms, even though I am just 31 years old. I was once told – by a nurse! – that doing a mammogram on the dense breast tissue of a younger woman is like “trying to find a polar bear in a snowstorm.” But for now, it is the best test available that will be covered by most insurance policies.
I am not trying to scare anyone by presenting this information to the child free community. I have accepted that my decision not to have children may add to my risk factors for breast cancer, but that does not mean I am going to have a child to reduce my risk. That would be a poor reason to become pregnant! (And besides, at 31 I am too old to reap any benefits anyway!) Knowledge is power, so arm yourself with the facts.
For more information about breast cancer, please visit the Komen Foundation’s website through the link below. The link will take you directly to an audiovisual presentation to better understand breast self exams. Explore the rest of the site as well – there is a lot of great information, presented in a clear way.
BellaOnline also has a site devoted to breast cancer, which is linked below.
Also, please visit The Breast Cancer Site, where a free daily click will provide free mammograms for underprivileged women. I click daily, and know that I am making a difference.