These 12 factors affect your breast cancer risk
The factors that influence your breast cancer risks vary widely, and they’re worth knowing about.
Here’s what the American Cancer Society says risks of breast cancer include:
- Being a woman: Although men can have breast cancer, the disease is about 100 times more common in women. Women have more of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can promote breast cancer development.
- Getting older: Most invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 and older.
- Having a personal history of breast cancer: If you had cancer in one breast, you have a higher risk of developing a new cancer in your other breast or in another part of the same breast.
- Having a family history of breast cancer: If your mother, sister, daughter, father or brother has/had breast cancer, your statistical chances of having breast cancer are higher. An important note: about 80 percent of women who get breast cancer do not have a family member with the disease.
- Having certain inherited genes: Heredity may play a role in 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers. Gene defects (or mutations) can be passed on from a parent. Breast cancers linked to such gene defects are more commonly diagnosed in younger women. Researchers are exploring a lot of different genetic aspects of cancer development. If you’re concerned about inherited cancer risks, consider visiting with your health care professional about genetic testing. It’s not for everyone and has limitations, but it could shed light on some of your risks.
- Being of a certain race or ethnicity: In women under age 45, breast cancer is more common in African American women. However, overall, white women are a bit more likely to develop breast cancer. African American women diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to die of the disease. Asian, Hispanic and Native American women have a lower risk of developing and dying from breast cancer.
- Having dense breast tissue: Breasts consist of fatty, fibrous and glandular tissues. Breasts are considered dense if they have more fibrous and glandular tissues (less fatty tissue). Age, menopause, certain drugs, pregnancy and genetics can affect breast density. Dense breast tissue can make breast cancer detection more difficult when screening is done by mammography alone.
- Having certain benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions: A number of conditions (such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ) can increase the risk for breast cancer. The increase in risk varies depending on the condition diagnosed. If you have questions about breast health, visit with your health care professional.
- Starting menstruation before age 12: Women who’ve had more periods have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer. This may be because they’ve had more exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can promote breast cancer development.
- Beginning menopause after age 55: Similar to women who started menstruating early, women who go through menopause later in life have more exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
- Having radiation to the chest: If as a child or young adult, you had radiation therapy to the chest to treat another cancer, you may have a significantly higher risk for breast cancer. However, if you had chemotherapy with the radiation, that can stop the production of certain hormones, which can lower the risk.
- Being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES): From the 1940s to the early 1970s, the drug DES was given to some pregnant women to reduce the risk of a miscarriage. Women who received DES have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. If your mother took DES while she was pregnant with you, your risk for breast cancer is also slightly higher.
Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly are two steps we can all take to reduce our risks and improve our overall and breast health. Your health care professional can give you guidance about your risks and steps you can take to reduce your chances for a cancer diagnosis.
To learn more about breast health and your risk, take a free, quick online assessment by clicking here.
Dr. Judy A. Tjoe is a surgeon who specializes in breast disease at Aurora Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Milwaukee, Wis.
About the Author
Judy A. Tjoe, MD, is a surgeon who specializes on breast disease at Aurora Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Milwaukee, WI.