Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
Menopause puts women at greater risk for breast cancer. Or does it? What are the risk factors associated with breast cancer and how do they relate to menopause? This quick primer will examine the link between menopause and the chance of developing breast cancer.
Breast cancer defined
Breast cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop in breast tissue, generally in one of two areas. The breast lobules are the glands that produce breast milk. The breast ducts are the small tubes that carry the milk to the nipples. Malignant cells form and attack the healthy cells. The cancer can remain in the breast or spread to other parts of the body, especially the lymph nodes located in the underarm areas.
Menopause and breast cancer
Strictly speaking, it is not menopause itself that is responsible for the increased risk of breast cancer. Menopause occurs as part of the aging process and it is that combination of age and change that contribute to a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Women undergoing menopause or who are postmenopausal should understand the numerous factors associated with breast cancer. The greater the age, the greater the impact of these factors. Incidences of breast cancer increase with age.
Risk factors for breast cancer
*Age plays an important role. Most diagnoses are made in women over 60, and a woman in her 80s has a 1 in 9 chance of developing breast cancer. But there are additional factors women of all ages should be aware of.
*Having a personal history of other cancers, particularly uterine or ovarian
*Having a family history, especially if a mother or sister was diagnosed with breast cancer
*Starting the menstrual process early (before ages 11 or 12) and stopping later in life (mid 50s)
*Having a first child after age 30 or never having a child
*Using postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with a combination of estrogen-progesterone. Medical experts seem to agree that estrogen alone has not been shown to increase risk
*Having dense breast tissue, usually confirmed with a mammogram
*Being inactive, lack of regular exercise
*Smoking, even if quit in past
*Consuming alcohol in excess or more than 1-2 drinks per day
*Having poor dietary habits, lack of fruits and vegetables, too much sugar, caffeine, fats, cholesterol
*Being excessively overweight (more than 40 pounds) with greater risk if that weight was gained during/after menopause
Menopause is the time to start paying closer attention to lifestyle choices and look for ways to make improvements. There are risk factors that cannot be changed. But women can learn about the many risk factors associated with breast cancer that increase during the menopausal years.
This article is not a substitute for complete medical information regarding breast caner but should be a starting point to understand the risk factors associated with menopause. Talk to your doctor to discuss your personal situation and learn ways to become more proactive with your health.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You