Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast grow out of control and invade nearby tissues. A large collection of these cells is known as a tumor. When a tumor is able to spread and invade other tissues, it becomes a malignant tumor, or cancer.
Every woman is at risk. Some, however, have a higher risk than most. These risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, late childbearing (after age 30), no childbearing, early periods (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55).
No woman can stop or alter the development of cancerous cells. What they can do is make their chances of risk factors go down. For postmenopausal women, they should:
- Avoid long-term, combined Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): US researchers found that women over 65 had 1.7 times the risk of developing cancer if they had taken a combination of oestrogen and progestin for over five years, compared to if they had taken no HRT. Their risks of developing some specific types of tumors were also found to be higher.
- Maintain body weight: Weight gain or obesity in postmenopausal women also enhances the risks of breast cancer. A study by the Endogenous Hormones and Breast Cancer Collaborative Group found that obesity increases breast cancer risks by increasing the serum concentrations of oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen have been linked as a causative factor of breast cancer.
- Limit alcohol intake: A study on the eating habits of 61,463 women by Paul Terry of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Sweden and his colleagues found that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. The researchers found that women who drank high amounts of alcohol were 30 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than women who did not.