Breast Cancer in women

Your ideas about causes of breast cancer

The causes of breast cancer are not yet completely understood but certain women do seem to be at a slightly higher risk of developing the disease. The risk of developing breast cancer is very small in young women (under 35) and increases as women get older. Eight out of ten (80%) breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50 (NHS Choices 2016).

Other risk factors include:

  • having a significant family history of breast cancer,
  • life style factors such as being overweight, alcohol consumption, smoking,
  • using hormone replacement therapy or taking the contraceptive pill,
  • previous cancer treatments such as radiotherapy and
  • having had breast cancer or some other breast conditions before

Here women discuss their ideas about the causes of breast cancer.

Many women said that, although they were aware that the causes of breast cancer were not yet fully known, they often wondered how or why they’d got it, sometimes asking themselves the question 'why me?'

Some women who had relatives with breast cancer felt that genetic factors were an important cause. Other women pointed out that the genetic component was small. Less than 1 in 10 of breast cancers are thought to be related to faulty genes that run in families (Macmillan Cancer Support September 2015). The three main genes linked to breast cancer are BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53 and there is some evidence that PALB-2 is also linked to breast cancer. The knowledge about how genes affect cancer is a growing field of research. Tess, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33, had tests to see if she had the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Many women suggested that a number of different factors might be involved in causing breast cancer. Some believed that a possible cause related to hormone use, and discussed the contraceptive pill and Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Women also discussed the possibility of the connection between diet and cancer, and several said they’d made dietary changes following their illness. Some compared the Western lifestyle and diet with non-Western countries. Other women said that they did not know why they should have developed breast cancer, pointing out that they had always led a healthy lifestyle.

Some women said that breast cancer seemed to strike randomly and that every woman was potentially at risk. Some of these women reported that they fitted into none of the risk factor categories. One of these women criticised media reports on the causes of breast cancer because they lacked evidence and caused panic. Stress as a possible cause of breast cancer was also discussed. A few women wondered about the impact of the environment, pollution and chemicals.

One woman emphasised the importance of more research into the causes of breast cancer, and questioned the role of pharmaceutical companies. A few women said that age was an important factor and that most women with breast cancer were between 50 and 65. One woman wondered about the effects of x-rays, and another mentioned that an increase in breast cancer statistics might partly be a result of heightened awareness and better technology.

Two women fell into several risk factor categories and said that this helped to explain their susceptibility.

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Last reviewed August 2018.
Last reviewed August 2018.


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