Richard G. Petty, MD

What is Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?

When I was first practicing in the United States I was stunned when a research coordinator – who was with me as I examined a young woman – complained that it embarrassed her that I asked the patient about breast cancer screening. I had been trained and then practiced for many years in the United Kingdom, where it would have been deemed negligent if I had not asked the question. As I was taught a long time ago, “When you see a patient, man, woman or child, that may be their only contact with a doctor, so take the opportunity to do as much screening and education as you can.” I still take that to be good advice. We have good data that if women did regular breast self-examination and men checked their testicles, that we would each year catch many cancers at the stage when they are still easily treatable.

I was reminded about all this as I read the shocking results of a study that will be coming out in the European Cancer Journal this month.

In a survey of over 10,000 female students from 23 countries, hardly any knew about any of the major risk factors for developing breast cancer. We have obviously done a lousy job a teaching young people about a disease that may in large part be preventable.

This is desperately important. About 30% of illnesses you cannot help: they are the result of genetic mutations, accidents and so on. But 70% of all illnesses are thought to be the result of lifestyle choices.

Breast cancer is a good example. Yes, there are undoubtedly some cases that are largely genetic: genes have been identified in some families that strongly predispose women – and some men – to the disease. But they are uncommon: probably no more than 5-10% of cases. It is likely that the majority of people with the illness do have a genetic predisposition. But the impact of family history is usually small. And remember that biology is not destiny. Lifestyle modification may indeed significantly reduce your risk.

These are the Major Breast Cancer Risk Factors:
1.    Age
2.    Family history (slight risk)
3.    Starting periods at a younger age
4.    Late menopause
5.    Using hormone replacement therapy
6.    Using the contraceptive pill (small)
7.    Alcohol
8.    Obesity

Please do note that this is not the whole list of risk factors. Perhaps the most comprehensive list is here.

Cutting the Risk:
1.    Breastfeed
2.    Having several children, and having them young
3.    Stay in shape
4.    Eat and drink healthily
5.    Don’t smoke

The take home message for everyone is this: lifestyle can strongly influence the risk of developing breast cancer. You cannot change everything, but stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, reducing weight and taking regular exercise are in the reach of almost everyone.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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