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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Overview

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Ionizing radiation

Based on solid evidence, exposure of the breast to ionizing radiation is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, starting 10 years after exposure and persisting lifelong. Risk depends on radiation dose and age at exposure, and is especially high if exposure occurs during puberty, when the breast develops.

Magnitude of Effect: Variable but approximately a sixfold increase overall.

Study Design: Cohort or case-control studies.
Internal Validity: Good.
Consistency: Good.
External Validity: Good.

Obesity

Based on solid evidence, obesity is associated with an increased breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women who have not used HT. It is uncertain whether weight reduction decreases the risk of breast cancer in obese women.

Magnitude of Effect: The Women's Health Initiative observational study of 85,917 postmenopausal women found body weight to be associated with breast cancer. Comparing women weighing more than 82.2 kg with those weighing less than 58.7 kg, the RR was 2.85 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.81-4.49).

Study Design: Case-control and cohort studies.
Internal Validity: Good.
Consistency: Good.
External Validity: Good.

Alcohol

Based on solid evidence, alcohol consumption is associated with increased breast cancer risk in a dose-dependent fashion. It is uncertain whether decreasing alcohol intake by heavy drinkers reduces the risk.

Magnitude of Effect: The RR for women consuming approximately four alcoholic drinks per day compared with nondrinkers is 1.32 (95% CI, 1.19-1.45). The RR increases by 7% (95% CI, 5.5%-8.7%) for each drink per day.

Study Design: Case-control and cohort studies.
Internal Validity: Good.
Consistency: Good.
External Validity: Good.

Factors With Adequate Evidence of Decreased Risk of Breast Cancer

Early pregnancy

Based on solid evidence, women who have a full-term pregnancy before age 20 years have decreased breast cancer risk.

Magnitude of Effect: 50% decrease in breast cancer, compared with nulliparous women or women who give birth after age 35 years.

Study Design: Case-control and cohort studies.
Internal Validity: Good.
Consistency: Good.
External Validity: Good.

Breast-feeding

Based on solid evidence, women who breast-feed have a decreased risk of breast cancer.

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