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Here's a few facts you might not know about breast cancer.

September is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and many media outlets focus on the most common risk factors for the disease and its typical symptoms. Meanwhile, breast cancer research continues to explore new causes for the disease, and, because breast cancer can take several forms, some symptoms might not be well known either.

What’s in Your Food

Eating more plants seems to lower the risk of developing cancer, but a chemical found in the soil around them may boost it. In one study scientists saw a link between breast cancer and cadmium. This heavy metal turns up in many fertilizers used to grow our food. Other sources of cadmium include:

  • Burned fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas
  • Burned wood
  • Emissions from incinerating municipal waste and medical waste
  • Crabs and mussels
  • Organ meats

Chemicals in the Air

Certain chemicals in environmental pollutants are similar to estrogen and other hormones. Exposure to those chemicals seems to raise the risk of breast cancer. The chances of breast tissue damage is highest when:

  • An unborn baby's mammary glands are forming
  • A girl reaches puberty
  • A woman is pregnant

Drinking and Hormones

Postmenopausal women who drink alcohol daily and take hormone replacement therapy for five years or more increase their chances of developing breast cancer. One study showed that mixing the therapy with 1.5 drinks per day doubled the risk. The good news is that the risk is lowered when the therapy ends.

The Unexpected Symptoms

Some less well-known symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of the breast
  • Enlarged lymph node under the arm with associated redness
  • Discoloration of the breast
  • Dimpled texture to breast skin

Some of these symptoms are associated with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of the disease.

If you experience any unusual changes to your breast or nipples, don’t hesitate—see a doctor. In most cases, the cause is not cancer, but it’s better to be safe. And if you have questions about women’s health issues or need a doctor,  call North Hills Hospital at 1-855-5NHILLS for a physician referral.

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Learn the factors that increase your risk of developing this cancer.

Ovarian cancer strikes only a small percentage of women, but it can be deadly. It causes more deaths than any cancer of the female reproductive system. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to learn the factors that increase a woman's chance of developing the disease.

Factors You Can’t Control

  • Genetics – mutations in genes called BRCA1 and 2 are linked to higher rates of ovarian cancer. Other genetic mutations can lead to Lynch Syndrome. While more closely associated with colorectal cancer, it can be a factor with ovarian cancer too.
  • Family history – if any close female relatives have had ovarian or breast cancer, your chances of developing ovarian cancer are higher.
  • Personal medical history – if you had or have breast cancer or certain other cancers (including melanoma and uterine cancer), your risk increases. Taking estrogen alone after menopause for hormone replacement therapy also boosts the risks.
  • Reproductive history – if you cannot (or choose not to) have children, you might be at higher risk. Each full-term pregnancy a woman has reduces her chance of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Age – most ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women who have gone through menopause.

Lifestyle Choices and Other Controllable Factors

  • Diet – a low-fat diet has been tied to lower rates of ovarian cancer.
  • Fertility drugs – women who are at a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer should avoid clomiphene citrate (Clomid), as this drug has shown to further increase your risk.
  • Contraception – using birth control pills or injectable hormone contraceptives lowers the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Assessing the Risk

If you’re curious about your risk of developing ovarian cancer, there are several online assessment tools available, including one here. Of course, if you’re truly concerned, you should see your doctor.

At North Hills Hospital, we’re concerned about women’s health too. If you’re looking for  a physician to address reproductive or other health issues, use our online physician finder or call 1-855-5NHILLS for a referral.

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