Studies have shown that your risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors. The main factors that influence your risk include being a woman and getting older. That is because most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older.
Before reading these lists, it is important to keep in mind that some women will get breast cancer without having any of these other risk factors. Likewise, having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease. In fact, most women have some risk factors and do not get breast cancer. However, if you have one or more of these breast cancer risk factors, you should talk with your doctor.
Unfortunately, there are many risk factors for breast cancer that you don’t have the ability to control. They include:
- Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age (most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50).
- Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes can put you at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history. Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.
- Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are also more likely to get breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Family history of breast cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.
- Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (like for treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
- Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.
Thankfully, there are some factors you do have control over that can lower your risk for breast cancer. These factors include:
- Being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Maintaining a healthy weight after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
- Avoid taking hormones. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
- Reproductive history. Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
- Limiting your alcohol intake. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
Speak with your doctor if you are concerned about your risk for breast cancer. They will give you recommendations based on your personal health and lifestyle. As with all cancers, it’s best if breast cancer is found early because it’s easier to treat. So don’t wait to have this important conversation.
If you are in need of screenings or diagnostic services, Community Care has numerous breast specialists who are highly trained in this field. For more information about our breast cancer services, please call our Oncology Care Navigator directly at (518) 213-0308.