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Breast Cancer Risk Factors Seemingly Less Influential in Hispanic Women

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A study suggests that links between known breast cancer risk factors and breast cancer diagnosis isn't as strong in Hispanic women compared to non-Hispanic white women.

Many personal and health characteristics (also called traditional risk factors) are associated in some way with higher breast cancer risk, including:

  • older age
  • family history of breast cancer
  • being overweight
  • being tall
  • lack of exercise
  • drinking alcohol
  • using hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • long menstrual history (either because periods began at a very early age or ended later than typical age)
  • never having children, having few children, or having a first child after age 30
  • never breast feeding

Nearly 5,000 Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah participated in the Four Corners Breast Cancer Study. The researchers recorded which traditional risk factors each woman had and if she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers then compared how much the risk factors seemed to influence breast cancer diagnosis between the two ethnic groups. Premenopausal and postmenopausal women in each ethnic group were analyzed separately.

In premenopausal women, traditional risk factors were linked to 36.4% of breast cancers in Hispanic women, compared to 75.4% of breast cancers in non-Hispanic white women. Only one traditional risk factor -- older age -- showed a significant link to breast cancer in premenopausal Hispanic women. Being older than 45 more than doubled breast cancer risk in premenopausal Hispanic women.

In postmenopausal women, traditional risk factors were linked to only 6.6% of the breast cancers in Hispanic women, compared to 62.1% of breast cancers in non-Hispanic white women. Two traditional risk factors -- family history and height -- showed significant links to breast cancer among postmenopausal Hispanic women. A family history of breast cancer increased breast cancer risk by 59% and tallness increased risk by 42% in postmenopausal Hispanic women.

In this study, the Hispanic women were less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than the non-Hispanic white women. The Hispanic white women had some risk factors linked to increased breast cancer risk: being overweight, not breast feeding, and not exercising regularly. But they also had other risk factors linked to lower breast cancer risk: menopause before age 50 and not using HRT.

This study suggests that factors other than traditional breast cancer risk factors may play a bigger role in breast cancer development in Hispanic women. It's very likely that genetic differences between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women are the reason for this difference. Still, more research using larger groups of women is needed to better understand the role of traditional risk factors in breast cancer development in Hispanic women.

Whatever your ethnic background, doing all that you can to keep your breast cancer risk as low as it can be makes good sense. You can learn much more about breast cancer risk and steps you can take to minimize your risk in the Breastcancer.org Lower Your Risk section.

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