FIRST PERSON | My breast cancer diagnosis floored me, as I did not think I had any risk factors other than my weight. This prompted me to look into why and how I got this disease. I know that I am not alone in this quest. Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are not at a higher risk for breast cancer than the general population.
A report that appeared in the Oct. 17, 2012 edition of Lancet Oncology reveals that the earlier a woman starts her period and the later she enters menopause has a direct impact on her risk of developing breast cancer. The researchers reviewed previous data and determined that women who start menstruating earlier than normal and those who enter menopause later than normal have a higher breast cancer risk for lobular and estrogen-positive breast cancers. This study does not help me with my personal quest for answers, but it may help other women in their search.
Data from 117 different studies was reviewed for this report. The report reviewed individual data for 118,964 women with invasive breast cancers and 306,091 women who were disease-free. None of the women in this study used hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms. Risks for breast cancer were calculated based on menarche (the onset of menstruation) and menopause. Researchers looked at the type of breast cancer tumors and the tumor's receptors.
Findings and conclusions
I do not fall into the early-menstruation group, and I was 49 and pre-menopausal at the time of my diagnosis. However, I do have estrogen-positive breast cancer. Researchers determined that women who started menstruation earlier than age 12 had a higher breast cancer risk. The breast cancer risk for this group was higher than the risk for women who entered into menopause later than normal. Most women start menopause between ages 45-54. Examination of tumor histology and receptors shows that the increased risk only applies to lobular and estrogen-positive breast cancers.
Reducing breast cancer risk
If the results of this study reveal you are in a higher risk group, you can do things to reduce your risk of getting breast cancer. Regular exercise, reducing alcohol consumption and keeping your weight within the ideal range for your age and height will help prevent breast cancer. Take a close look at the cancer occurrences in your family, including early prostate cancers in men. If your risk seems higher than normal, discuss screening options with your doctor.
Lynda Altman was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011. She writes a series for Yahoo! Shine called "My Battle With Breast Cancer."