Just being a woman is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer. There are about 190,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 60,000 cases of non-invasive breast cancer this year in American women. While men do develop breast cancer, less than 1% of all new breast cancer cases happen in men. Approximately 2,000 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in American men this year.
The biggest reasons for the difference in breast cancer rates between men and women are:
- Women's breast development takes 3 to 4 years and is usually complete by age 14. It's uncommon for men's breasts to fully form -- most of the male breasts you see are fat, not formed glands.
- Once fully formed, breast cells are very immature and highly active until a woman's first full-term pregnancy. While they are immature, a women's breast cells are very responsive to estrogen and other hormones, including hormone disrupters in the environment.
- Men's breast cells are inactive and most men have extremely low levels of estrogen.
So hormonal stimulation of highly responsive and vulnerable breast cells in women, particularly during the extra-sensitive period of breast development, is why breast cancer is much more common in women than in men.
Steps you can take
Changing your sex to reduce your risk of breast cancer is not a realistic or reasonable possibility. But there are lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your estrogen exposure and reduce this sex-related risk:
- maintaining a healthy weight
- exercising regularly
- limiting alcohol
- eating nutritious food
- never smoking (or quitting if you do smoke)
These are just a few of the steps you can take. Review the links on the left side of this page for more options.
Think Pink, Live Green: A Step-by-Step Guide to Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer teaches you the biology of breast development and how modern life affects breast cancer risk. Download the PDF of the booklet to learn 31 risk-reducing steps you can take today.