Risks

What are your risk factors for developing breast cancer? 

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of developing a disease. Many risk factors are things you can control, like smoking, but others may be genetic.

Knowing your risk factors for any disease can help guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.

Risk factors that cannot be changed:

  • Gender. Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
  • Race or ethnicity. It has been noted that white women develop breast cancer slightly more often than African-American women. However, African-American women tend to die of breast cancer more often. This may be due to the fact that African-American women often develop a more aggressive type of tumor. The risk for developing breast cancer and dying from it is lower in Hispanic, Native American, and Asian women.
  • Aging. Two out of three women with invasive cancer are diagnosed after age 55.
  • Previous chest wall irradiation during adolescence.
  • Family history and genetic factors. Having a close relative, such as a mother or sister, with breast cancer increases the risk. This includes changes in certain genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2, and others.
  • Benign breast disease. Women with certain benign breast conditions (such as a typical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ) have an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Mammographically dense breast tissue. Breast tissue may look dense or fatty on a mammogram. Older women with dense breast tissue are at increased risk.
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure. Women who took this drug while pregnant (to lower the chance of miscarriage) are at higher risk. The possible effect on their daughters is under study.
  • Early menstrual periods. Women whose periods began early in life (before age 12) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Late menopause. Women are at a slightly higher risk if they began menopause later in life (after age 55).

The most frequently cited lifestyle-related risk factors:

  • Weight gain and obesity, especially after menopause.
  • Long-term, post-menopausal use of combined estrogen and progestin (hormone replacement therapy).
  • Not having children, or having your first child after age 30.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • Alcohol use (more than one drink per day). Diet high in red meat.

Environmental risk factors:

Exposure to pesticides, or other chemicals, is currently being examined as a possible risk factor as well as dietary carcinogens.

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The above calculator is intended only as a guideline. Please see your Providence Saint John’s Margie Petersen Breast Center surgeon or cancer-risk assessment and prevention physician to determine your risk of developing breast cancer by selecting from the list of our providers.