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What Causes Breast Cancer?

written by: Vikas Vij • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/8/2011

Wish to know what causes breast cancer? There is not sufficient medical evidence to pinpoint exact causes, but there are certain risk factors that have been identified clearly. These risk factors contribute to the chances of getting breast cancer.

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    Factors Responsible for Breast Cancer

    What causes breast cancer continues to remain a subject of medical research and scientific debate. The exact causes are not yet determined, but medical researchers in this field have identified several risk factors that increase the chances of breast cancer. Some of these risk factors such as aging are beyond control, however there are several such risk factors that can be brought under control to reduce the chances of getting this disease. Scientists have also pointed out to certain changes in the DNA that may result in healthy breast cells becoming cancerous. Hereditary factors may also be responsible for such DNA changes which may lead to this disease being more prevalent in some families.

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    Aging as a Factor for Breast Cancer

    It has been scientifically observed that the chances of getting breast cancer increase with age. As per the available data, women in the age group of 50 years are eight times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women in the age group of 30. In fact, more than 80 percent of cases of breast cancer occur in women who have crossed the age of 50. In the age group of 40 to 45 years for women, breast cancer has been identified as the leading cause of deaths. This disease is rarely found in women below the age of 35, except in situations where the disease runs in the family.

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    Past History of Breast Cancer

    A woman who has already been a patient of breast cancer, and treated successfully, still continues to be at a higher risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast. The new cancer that shows up in a disconnected location should not be assumed to be a recurrence of the previous cancer or a condition of metastasis. With each passing year, the chances of developing a second breast cancer grow for a previous patient of this disease. In twenty years time, the patient is at a 10 to 15 percent higher risk of developing a new breast cancer. If the original breast cancer was diagnosed as ductal carcinoma, the patient’s risk of developing a new cancer is even higher at 30 to 50 percent.

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    Family History of Breast Cancer

    What causes breast cancer may not be known precisely, but from the available data it appears that genetic factors may have a role to play. In nearly 85 percent of the diagnosed cases, the patients do not report any specific history of the disease running in their family. Out of the remaining 15 percent cases, nearly one-third of the cases show up a specific genetic dysfunction. If a woman’s blood relative such as mother, sister or daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer, her own chances of getting this disease are two times that of other women. The risk may go up further if there is an incidence of breast cancer running up to several generations within the family.

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    Hormonal Causes

    A higher breast cancer incidence has been observed in women who have a relatively longer exposure to sex hormones in general and estrogen in particular. The chances of getting breast cancer go up for women who have experienced early first menstruation before the age of 12, and those who have experienced a late end to menstrual periods. Women who have not experience a pregnancy or undergone a late pregnancy after the age of 30, or have regularly used oral contraceptive pills are at a higher risk of breast cancer. Several studies have indicated that Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in women may also enhance ones risk.