How Genetics May Increase Your Risk of Female Cancers

There are many different factors which can affect your risk of getting breast cancer, however genetics play a very significant role. Should a woman's mother, sister, daughter, or two or more other close relatives, including cousins, have a history of breast cancer, her own chances are highly increased-in fact it is estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of all breast cancers are hereditary and result from a gene mutation inherited from one of your parents. If those close female relatives were diagnosed with breast cancer prior to age 50, the risk increases. Relatively recently genetic testing was discovered which could determine whether or not a woman had the genetic mutations known to be associated with breast cancer even before the breast cancer showed up.

Women who have inherited what are known as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are considered to be at a much higher risk of getting breast cancer, although some women who have significant family histories of breast cancer may not show changes in their BRCA genes, so the test is hardly infallible. For reasons researchers are not entirely sure of, the mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are much more common in particular ethnic groups such as the Ashkenazi Jews.

Risk Factors which are Unchangeable

Aside from genetics, there are some risk factors that you simply cannot change. While men can develop breast cancer, it is 100 times more common among women, so by definition gender is a factor in the development of breast cancer. Women simply have a higher percentage of breast cells than men and those cells are continuously exposed to female hormones which are well known to promote the growth of abnormal breast cells. Aging is another factor we have little control over, and your risk will naturally increase as the birthdays pass by. While one in eight breast cancers will be discovered in women who are younger than 45, that figure leaps to two out of three in women over the age of 55.

Caucasian women tend to be slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women, although the African American women will be more likely to die from the disease. For reasons not well understood, Native American women, Hispanic women and Asian women tend to have a lower risk of death from breast cancer. To add insult to injury, women who have had breast cancer in one breast have three to four times the risk of developing cancer in the other breast. Women who have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue will also experience a higher rate of breast cancer, and have the added problem of the dense breast tissue making problems harder to spot on a mammogram.

Other Gene Mutations Which Increase Your Risk

Women who inherit an abnormal copy of the ATM gene which repairs damaged DNA may have a greater risk of breast cancer as will those who inherit the p53 tumor suppressor gene in its mutated form. A mutation of the PTEN gene, which normally helps control normal cell growth can lead to increased risk of malignant tumors, and women who have inherited a CDH1 mutation can also be at an increased risk of the most serious forms of breast cancer.

Factors You Can Control

While it may seem that there are many factors beyond your control, there are some that are well within your control. Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of both ovarian and breast cancer so controlling your weight and getting plenty of nutritious foods and regular exercise can help protect you from breast cancer. Women who have their first baby before the age of thirty appear to have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, and women who have never had a baby have an increased risk. Studies have also shown that women who breast feed are less likely to develop either ovarian or breast cancer, so not only is it good for your baby-it's good for you! Remember that just because you have a risk factor does not guarantee you will get the disease-in fact many women who have one or more risk factors will not develop breast cancer. What your risk factors can tell you is to be extra-vigilant in getting regular mammograms and other breast cancer screening tests as well as leading a healthy lifestyle.

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