Frequently Asked Questions

This figure is a correct average estimate for Western countries. However it varies from one population to another due to different environmental factors and genetics. Survival rates for Breast cancer are also very high, and improving.

There are various environmental factors that have been implicated in breast cancer. There is currently a lot of uncertainty, however, as some studies have found clear associations of breast cancer with environmental factors such as chemicals in the environment, increased fatty food intake and exposure to sunlight. ImaGenX is in fact trying to discover whether there a link with various factors in the environment, so as to inform the public on what to do to limit the risk of developing Breast Cancer

Yes there appears to be a strong link between smoking and the development of breast cancer. Smoking has also been strongly associated with various other cancers, including lung, liver pancreas and many other cancers.

Additionally, second hand smoke is also a risk factor for cancer. So if you are a smoker, help yourself in a significant way and join a smoking cessation program to help you stop. The day you stop smoking the healing can begin and each week in which you are smoke-free, you give yourself increasing advantages for a healthier life.

There is now sufficient evidence, through various studies, that moderate consumption of alcohol can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Overweight and obese women — defined as having a BMI (body mass index) over 25 — have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause. Being overweight also can increase the risk of the breast cancer coming back (recurrence) in women who have had the disease.

This higher risk is because fat calls make estrogen; extra fat cells mean more estrogen in the body and estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop and grow.

Overweight and obese women — defined as having a BMI (body mass index) over 25 — have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause. Being overweight also can increase the risk of the breast cancer coming back (recurrence) in women who have had the disease.

This higher risk is because fat calls make estrogen; extra fat cells mean more estrogen in the body and estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop and grow.

Physical activity does appear to reduce the risk of breast cancer. It is definitely useful as it reduces the amount of fat in the body, and hence the amount of oestrogen which is known to lead to an increase in hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.

Exercise consumes and controls blood sugar and limits blood levels of insulin growth factor, a hormone that can affect how breast cells grow and behave.

People who exercise regularly tend to be healthier and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight and have little or no excess fat compared to people who don’t exercise.

Physical activity does appear to reduce the risk of breast cancer. It is definitely useful as it reduces the amount of fat in the body, and hence the amount of oestrogen which is known to lead to an increase in hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.

Exercise consumes and controls blood sugar and limits blood levels of insulin growth factor, a hormone that can affect how breast cells grow and behave.

People who exercise regularly tend to be healthier and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight and have little or no excess fat compared to people who don’t exercise.

Diet is thought to be partly responsible for about 30% to 40% of all cancers, and therefore plays an important role in the development of breast cancer. No food or diet can prevent you from getting breast cancer. Some foods, however can serve to boost your immune system, and help keep your risk for breast cancer as low as possible.

Breast cancer is less common in countries where the typical diet is plant-based and low in total fat (polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat). This therefore might explain why breast cancer is more common in so-called “Western” countries with a higher proportion of fat and meat consumption. However, no clear research on adult women in the United States has found conclusively that breast cancer risk to be related specifically to dietary fat intake.

More research is needed to better understand the effect of diet on breast cancer risk. But it is clear that calories do count. High-fat diets can lead to being overweight or obese, which is a breast cancer risk factor, as already explained in the question above. Overweight women are thought to be at higher risk for breast cancer because the extra fat cells make estrogen, which can cause extra breast cell growth. This extra growth increases the risk of breast cancer.

A number of studies suggest that current use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) appears to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, especially among younger women. However, the risk level goes back to normal 10 years or more after discontinuing oral contraceptive use.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is considered safe, if taken under supervision but it is highly recommended that those with a family history of breast cancer should not take HRT as the risk of breast cancer would be greatly increased.

A number of studies suggest that current use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) appears to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, especially among younger women. However, the risk level goes back to normal 10 years or more after discontinuing oral contraceptive use.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is considered safe, if taken under supervision but it is highly recommended that those with a family history of breast cancer should not take HRT as the risk of breast cancer would be greatly increased.

There are two main types of HRT:

  • combination HRT, containing the hormones estrogen and progesterone
  • estrogen only HRT

Each type of HRT seems to have a different effect on breast cancer risk.

Combination HRT increases breast cancer risk by about 75%, even when used for only a short time. Combination HRT also increases the likelihood that the cancer may be found at a more advanced stage, as well as increasing the risk that a woman diagnosed with breast cancer will die from the disease. Breast cancer risk increases the most during the first 2 to 3 years of taking combination HRT. Higher-dose combination HRT increases breast cancer risk more than lower-dose combination HRT. Breast cancer risk goes back down to average about 2 years after you stop taking combination HRT.

Estrogen only HRT increases the risk of breast cancer, but only when used for more than 10 years. Estrogen only HRT also can increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

The higher breast cancer risk from using HRT is the same for so called “bioidentical” and “natural” hormones as it is for synthetic hormones. “Bioidentical” means the hormones in the product are identical to the hormones your body produces. Bioidentical hormones are said to be “natural” — derived from plants. Synthetic hormones are made in a lab and are also chemically identical to the hormones in your body. It’s important to know that many herbal and bioidentical HRT products fall outside the jurisdiction of the United States Food and Drug Administration and so aren’t subject to the same regulations and testing that medications are.

Women who began their menstrual cycles before age 12, have no biological children, or had their first child at 30 or older, or began menopause after 55 are at a higher risk. This means that research has proven that the number of menstrual cycles a woman has over her lifetime is probably a strong determining factor for increased risk in breast cancer

There is no clear proof that stress and anxiety can increase breast cancer risk. Some studies however have indicated there is an associated risk. There might be a mechanism related to the stress hormone cortisol, which might lead to an increase in risk for breast cancer due to changes in metabolism or fat deposition; however this is a very indirect route and difficult to study.

In 2012, some research studies showed that factors such as traumatic events and losses can alter immune system functions, and when immune functions are altered cancer cells may have an opportunity to get themselves established within one’s body. In fact, it is not the fact that a major life crisis has occurred that increases this risk but how the individual reacted to this event and coped (or didn’t cope).

Therefore, identifying ways to keep your stress level in check is wise.Anything you can do to reduce your stress and to enhance your lifestyle can have a major effect on your quality of life. So-called “mindful measures” (such as meditation, yoga, visualization exercises, and prayer) may be valuable additions to your daily or weekly routine. Some research suggests that these practices can strengthen the immune system.

There is no clear proof that stress and anxiety can increase breast cancer risk. Some studies however have indicated there is an associated risk. There might be a mechanism related to the stress hormone cortisol, which might lead to an increase in risk for breast cancer due to changes in metabolism or fat deposition; however this is a very indirect route and difficult to study.

In 2012, some research studies showed that factors such as traumatic events and losses can alter immune system functions, and when immune functions are altered cancer cells may have an opportunity to get themselves established within one’s body. In fact, it is not the fact that a major life crisis has occurred that increases this risk but how the individual reacted to this event and coped (or didn’t cope).

Therefore, identifying ways to keep your stress level in check is wise. Anything you can do to reduce your stress and to enhance your lifestyle can have a major effect on your quality of life. So-called “mindful measures” (such as meditation, yoga, visualization exercises, and prayer) may be valuable additions to your daily or weekly routine. Some research suggests that these practices can strengthen the immune system.

Very few scientific studies have looked at the link between wearing a bra and breast cancer. There is no real difference in risk between women who wore a bra and women who didn’t wear a bra. Being overweight does increase breast cancer risk though, and women who are overweight are more likely to have larger breasts and wear a bra. Women who don’t wear bras are more likely to be at a healthy weight. The link therefore could be an indirect one, and not related to wearing or not wearing a bra.

Almost all breast cysts identified as “simple cysts” by ultrasound are benign and never become cancerous. It is estimated that one in 1,000 cysts contain a tumor (but they are usually benign). These tumors can be identified by ultrasound in most cases. Women with cysts are not at greater risk for cancer although this risk may be slightly higher if there is a family history of breast cancer (mother, sister, or daughter).

Having dense breasts; that is, relatively little fat in the breast and more glandular and connective tissue, as seen on a mammogram; is one of the strongest known risk factors for breast cancer. This is unfortunate, as breast density is something that is outside of a woman’s ability to control, and cannot be discerned through palpation of the breasts.

If you have been found to have increased breast density you should visit your local breast surveillance centre to discuss your risk profile and seek professional advice with qualified professionals in the field. Additionally it is counselled that those with increased breast density should avoid taking HRT, as this is known to further increase breast density and therefore increases risk of breast cancer

Yes; following a thorough examination or risk factors, including a detailed family history, a genetic profile and assessment of other established risk factors, one can get an overall risk of breast cancer calculated. The results would then be discussed with a professional at your local breast screening centre to discuss possible management options.

Breast Cancer Surveillance