By Carla Mason, Genetic Counselor
Many of us know someone who has been affected by breast or ovarian cancer, and you probably know the importance of an annual mammogram and monthly breast self exams, but do you know if you have risk factors that may put you at higher risk of developing the diseases? A risk factor is something that increases or decreases your chances of developing a disease such as cancer. But just because you have one risk factor, or several, does not mean you will be diagnosed with the disease.
So, do you have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer? Here are some different risk factors for developing breast or ovarian cancer.
- Inheriting certain gene defects. Between five and 10 percent of breast cancer cases are linked to an inherited gene mutation called BRCA1 and BRCA2. The same genes also raise the chances of ovarian cancer.
- Having a family history of the disease. A woman’s risk of breast cancer doubles if she has one first-degree relative with the disease and approximately triples with two first-degree relatives. Chances of ovarian cancer also get higher depending on the number of relatives with the disease.
- Having a personal history of breast cancer. A woman who has had cancer in one breast has a three- to four-fold higher chance of developing a new cancer in either the other breast or another part of the same breast. She also may have an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
- Having dense breast tissue. Women who have more glandular tissue than fatty tissue have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Having more menstrual cycles. Women who started menstruating before age 12 or stopped after age 55 have an elevated breast cancer risk.
- Giving birth. Women who have had children have a lower risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
- Being overweight. Overweight women have a higher chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
- Undergoing gynecologic surgery. Having a tubal ligation decreases a woman’s chances of ovarian cancer by 67 percent and a hysterectomy by 33 percent.
- Taking fertility drugs. The use of certain fertility drugs for longer than one year could increase the chance of developing ovarian tumors.
If you’re at increased risk for breast or ovarian cancer, it’s important to be aware of your risks and educated about your health, no matter what your age. The Brookwood Baptist Cancer Genetics Center identifies, counsels and provides education and support to help patients assess their breast and ovarian cancer risk factors and make informed decisions about their health.