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HomeLifestyleWhy Is Breast Cancer Among Younger Women on the Rise? 5 Factors...

Why Is Breast Cancer Among Younger Women on the Rise? 5 Factors Explored

The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis conducted a study about breast cancer in 2023. The results of the study revealed that between 2000-2019, the cases of breast cancer have steadily increased in women under 50. 

And since the regular cancer screening for women in the US begins at 40, younger women tend to have later-stage tumors by the time they’re diagnosed. At this point, the disease becomes more advanced and fairly difficult to treat. 

This shift in demographics poses a critical question for us: Why is breast cancer becoming increasingly prevalent in this age group? 

Delving into this pressing issue reveals a combination of factors driving this alarming trend. From changing reproductive patterns to environmental influences, several key elements contribute to the rise in breast cancer among younger women. 

In this article, our goal is to better understand these contributing elements to help detect cancer early and work on appropriate prevention strategies. 

Family History

Genetic predisposition plays a key role in familial breast cancer cases, which is common in both younger and older women. Inherited mutations in specific genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, greatly increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer. 

Women with a family history of these genetic mutations are at a higher risk of inheriting them and subsequently developing breast cancer themselves. 

Additionally, other genetic variants associated with breast cancer risk may also be passed down through families, further contributing to the hereditary component of the disease.

Reproductive History

A woman’s reproductive history is a key determinant of her vulnerability to breast cancer. It is shaped by factors including the timing of menstruation onset, age at first childbirth, number of pregnancies, and breastfeeding practices. 

Early onset of menstruation and late menopause expose women to longer periods of estrogen exposure, increasing breast cancer risk. 

Conversely, early childbirth and multiple pregnancies have a protective effect, as they induce changes in breast tissue that reduce cancer risk. Breastfeeding further lowers risk by suppressing ovulation and promoting beneficial changes in breast cells.

The timings of childbirth and breastfeeding of women from before the 2000s have changed significantly in their more recent population. This makes it an important contributing factor to the rising threat of breast cancer among younger women. 

Environmental Factors 

Exposure to certain substances and pollutants from your environment can potentially influence the development of cancer cells in your body. Most of these chemicals are commonly taken by us through air or water. 

The incident of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination is a glaring example of how water contamination can lead to as many as 16 diseases for those who were exposed to it. Seven of these diseases are cancers, including breast cancer. 

The National Institute of Medicine reported that a variety of harmful chemicals – including vinyl chloride, benzene, and chloroform – had contaminated the water at the camp. 

These chemicals are known to cause birth defects, cancer, and other serious health issues. According to TorHoerman Law, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer linked to Camp Lejeune water contamination.

Besides breast cancer, other diseases and symptoms of Camp Lejeune water contamination include adult leukemia, multiple myeloma, renal toxicity, Scleroderma, and hepatic Steatosis.

Obesity

The adipose tissue in our body, commonly called “fat cells,” produces estrogen. Higher levels of estrogen in the body can stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells, thereby increasing the risk of breast cancer. 

Therefore, women who are obese, and consequently have higher levels of adipose tissue, tend to have elevated levels of estrogen circulating in their bodies, which can promote the development of breast cancer.

Obesity is also associated with chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body. Inflammatory processes can promote cancer development and progression by creating an environment that is conducive to the growth and spread of cancer cells. 

Furthermore, obesity is often accompanied by insulin resistance. It is a condition in which your cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin, leading the pancreas to produce more insulin. Since insulin promotes cell growth, an increased level of the hormone could facilitate the development of breast cancer in obese women.

Excessive Use of Alcohol

The relationship between alcohol intake and breast cancer risk is dose-dependent, meaning that higher levels of alcohol consumption are associated with greater risk. 

Alcohol contains ethanol, which is metabolized in the body to acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen that can damage DNA and interfere with cellular processes, potentially leading to the development of cancerous cells in breast tissue.

Alcohol consumption can disrupt the estrogen levels in your body, which are responsible for the growth of breast cells. 

Elevated levels of estrogen are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, and alcohol may contribute to it by raising estrogen levels in your bloodstream. It can also impair the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen, leading to higher circulating levels of this hormone.

An Overview of Alcohol and Women published by the National Library of Medicine revealed that the prevalence of binge drinking and alcohol use disorder increased at a strikingly higher rate in women in comparison to men. 

This conclusion was drawn from nationally represented surveys conducted 10 years apart. Since women have been more drawn towards alcohol consumption in the last two decades, it could be a leading factor in the increased risk of breast cancer in younger women. 

A Step Towards Reducing the Risk of Breast Cancer 

The rise of breast cancer among younger women is a multifaceted issue influenced by a combination of genetic, reproductive, environmental, lifestyle, and societal factors. Understanding the contributing factors is fundamental to developing effective strategies to mitigate this fatal risk.

Now that we’re familiar with these factors, we can raise awareness about them and their impact on breast cancer. Doing so will ultimately empower women to make better, more informed life and lifestyle choices to protect themselves from the risk.

Together, we can strive towards reducing the burden of breast cancer and improving the health outcomes of women, especially those under 50, who are least expecting it.

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