What Causes Breast Cancer?

The cancer that develops in the cells of the breasts is called breast cancer, which is the second most common cancer, after skin cancer, affecting women in the United States. Most people are not aware of it but breast cancer can occur in men as well; however, it is much more common in women. It usually develops in the inner lining of milk ducts first and is called ductal carcinoma – or it starts in the lobules that supply milk to those ducts and is then known as lobular carcinoma. It is also possible for a malignant tumor to spread to other parts of the body. 

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Unfortunately, it is still not clear exactly what causes breast cancer. You develop it when your breast cells begin growing in an abnormal way. These cells continue to multiply and grow at a much faster rate as compared to healthy cells and end up forming a mass or lump in your breast. Some cells can also move to your lymph nodes and other body parts.

The cancer usually beings in the milk-producing ducts and is called invasive ductal carcinoma, but it can also begin in the glandular tissue (invasive lobular carcinoma). Moreover, breast cancer can also begin in other cells or tissue in the breast. A combination of lifestyle, hormonal, and environmental factors may be responsible for causing these types of cancer.

However, the confusing part is that some people with no risk factors involved end up developing cancer, while other people with risk factors never have to deal with it. This makes experts say that your environment and genetic makeup also has a lot to do with your risk of developing breast cancer.

What Increases Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

It is unclear what causes breast cancer but certain risk factors play a role in making you vulnerable to developing this type of cancer. You cannot change some of these risk factors, but you can change some.

1. Age

You are more likely to develop breast cancer with age. About 8 out of 10 breast cancer patients are women over 50. Women who have been through the menopause and are in their 50s are the most common victims.

2. Family History

Your risk of developing breast cancer increases when you have someone in your family or close relatives who have had ovarian cancer or breast cancer in the past. While experts believe that breast cancer is usually not hereditary, certain genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 may increase your risk of having both ovarian and breast cancer. That is mainly because these genes can pass on to the child.

3. Previous Benign Breast Lump

If you have been diagnosed with non-invasive cancer cell changes in breast ducts or have had a benign breast lump, your risk of developing breast cancer is higher than most. You may develop a cancerous lump in the same breast or in your other breast.

4. Breast Density

Thousands of lobules or tiny glands are in your breasts that help produce milk. The breast tissue contains breast cells that make it denser. You are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer if you have dense breast tissue – there are more cells in the tissue; therefore, a higher probability for some of them becoming cancerous.

5. Obesity and Estrogen

Being overly exposed to estrogen puts you at a higher risk of developing cancer. Estrogen is the female hormone responsible for starting your period. If you have started your period at a young age and did not experience menopause at a late age, it means you have been exposed to estrogen over a very long time. The amount of estrogen will also go up if your body weight is on the higher side.

6. Alcohol

How much alcohol you consume regularly may also help determine your risk for breast cancer. Research shows that out of 200 women who consume a couple of alcoholic drinks every day, at least three of them end up developing breast cancer. Therefore, excessive alcohol consumption may well be the answer to what causes breast cancer in the first place.

7. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Your risk of developing breast cancer increases when you take estrogen-only HRT or combined HRT. Research shows that out of 1,000 women who take combined HRT for at least 10 years, 19 develop breast cancer. The longer you take HRT, the higher risk of developing breast cancer. Your risk returns to normal though when you stop taking HRT.

8. A Personal History of Breast Cancer

If you have already treated breast cancer successfully in the past or you have had early non-invasive cancer cell changes in your breast ducts, you are more likely to develop breast cancer again. It may develop in the same breast or in your other breast.

9. Radiation Exposure

Being exposed to X-rays and other radiations increases your risk of developing breast cancer. Some medical procedures like computerized tomography (CT) scans also use radiation that leads to an increase in your risk of developing breast cancer.

10. Smoking

You end up developing a number of life-threatening complications when you smoke. Smoking also increases your risk of breast cancer, especially if you are young and have not experience your menopause yet. Being exposed to very heavy second-hand smoke may also push your cancer risk up a bit. 

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