Cancer Care Preventive Service Women's Health

Are You at Risk for Breast Cancer?

In 2017, it’s estimated that 252,720 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women living in the United States.

Because breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, it’s important for women to understand their risk factors for the disease, and the first step in understanding is for them to discuss the risk factors with their doctor and what steps they can take toward prevention.

The following are risk factors associated with breast cancer:

  • Sex. Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
  • Race or ethnicity. Caucasian women develop breast cancer slightly more often than African-American women. But African-American women tend to die of breast cancer more often. The risk for having breast cancer and dying from it is lower in women who are Hispanic, Native American, or Asian.
  • Older age. Two out of three women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55.
  • History of breast cancer. If you’ve had cancer in one breast, you’re at an increased risk of having it in the other breast or another part of the same breast.
  • Family history. Having a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer increases your risk.
  • Benign breast disease. Women with certain benign breast conditions such as hyperplasia or atypical hyperplasia have an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Early menstrual periods. Women whose periods began before age 12 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Late menopause. Women are at a slightly higher risk if they began menopause after age 55.
  • Not giving birth to a child, or giving birth to your first child after age 30. These women have a slightly higher breast cancer risk.
  • Dense breast tissue. Women whose breasts have larger areas of dense tissue on mammograms are at increased risk for breast cancer.
  • Recent use (within 10 years) of oral contraceptives. Taking birth control pills slightly increases your breast cancer risk compared with women who have never used them. The risk may go back to normal over time after the pills are stopped.
  • Drinking alcohol. Breast cancer risk goes up if you drink just one glass of wine, beer, or mixed drink a day. The more you drink, the higher your risk.
  •  Long-term use of estrogen and progestin medicines after menopause. This is known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The hormones are most often used together. If you have had HRT for two or more years to relieve menopause symptoms, you may have a higher chance of breast cancer. If you decide to use HRT, use it at the lowest dose and for the shortest time possible.
  • Certain inherited changes in genes are another risk factor. Hereditary breast cancer accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancer cases. Genes linked to breast cancer include:
    • BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These are tumor suppressor genes that usually have the job of controlling cell growth and cell death. When they’re changed, they don’t do their job correctly, and cancer tumors may grow. Changes in these genes account for most cases of hereditary breast cancer.

Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change and knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk.

After you and your doctor review the risk factors – together – you can develop the best prevention and screening plan for you.

*Source, American Cancer Society,

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