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Breast Cancer Risks

From the Breast Health Articles List

Breast Cancer Risk FactorsWhat are the risk factors for breast cancer? Can I change any of them?


There are several risk factors for developing breast cancer. Some of them you can change, and some of them you cannot. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will develop breast cancer, nor does each factor carry the same risks. Conversely, not having these risk factors does not guarantee you will not develop breast cancer. Knowing about the various risks for breast cancer can allow you to be proactive with your health so you and your doctor can work to minimize them in your life.

Risks You Can't Change

  • Gender: Though both men and women can develop breast cancer, being female increases your risks significantly.
  • Age: As you age, your risk for breast cancer increases.
  • Race and ethnicity: White women over the age of 45 have a higher risk of breast cancer than African-American women. Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women have a lower risk.
  • Genetics: Your genes play a role in your risk for breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 5-10% of all breast cancer is hereditary. Inheriting a mutation of either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene can greatly increase your risks, while ATM, TP53, CHEK2, PTEN, CDH1, and STK11 gene mutations may cause infrequent cases of inherited breast cancer.
  • Family and personal history of breast cancer: Having one or more first- or second-degree relatives with breast cancer increases your risk, as does having had breast cancer yourself.
  • DES exposure: Using DES or being exposed to DES in the womb can increase your risks of breast cancer.
  • Radiation exposure: If you underwent radiation therapy to the chest area as a child or young adult, you have an increased risk for developing breast cancer.
  • Benign breast conditions or dense breast tissue: Abnormal breast changes and having dense breast tissue can increase your risks for also developing breast cancer.
  • Menstrual history: Starting your period early and/or entering menopause late can increase your risks.

Risks You Can Change

  • Overall health: Being overweight, inactive, and drinking alcohol can increase your risks, so losing weight, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol can help decrease your risks. Some studies indicate that smoking or working the night shift could also increase your risk, so eliminating these activities may be helpful.
  • Reproductive history: Not having children or having your first child after age 30 can increase your risk, while multiple pregnancies and having your first child young can decrease your risks. Breastfeeding may also decrease your risk of breast cancer.
  • Hormones: Long term use of both oral contraceptives and combined hormone therapy (estrogen and progestin) can increase your risks of breast cancer, but your risks can decrease after stopping the hormones. Depo-Provera (an injectable progestin) can also increase risks, while using estrogen only may decrease your risk.
If you have one or more of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about how you can be proactive with your health and possibly minimize your risks. If you have genetic or family risks factors, consider working with a genetic counselor to assess your specific risks and determine if prophylactic treatments are right for you.

Regardless of your risk factors, focus on living a healthy lifestyle. This includes taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Staying healthy may be a critical step in either preventing or managing this disease.


This content was written by staff of HysterSisters.com by non-medical professionals based on discussions, resources and input from other patients for the purpose of patient-to-patient support.

06-02-2014 - 03:58 PM


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