Health Topics

What Are the Risk Factors of Breast Cancer?

What Are the Risk Factors of Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer Risks

Cancers have different associated risk factors, breast cancer included. From genetics to lifestyle, the list below details the risk factors associated with developing breast cancer.

Significantly Higher Risk

  • History of previous cancer: already having cancer in one breast, especially if it occurred before menopause, increases a woman’s risk of developing a new breast cancer unrelated to the first one.
  • Breast cancer genes: those carrying the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 are at higher risk. Ten percent of women carry these genes.

Moderately Higher Risk

  • Getting older: your risk for breast cancer increases as you age.
  • Direct family history: having a mother, sister or daughter (a “first-degree relative”) who has breast cancer puts you at higher risk for the disease. Having one first-degree relative with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk.
  • Breast lesions: these include multiple papillomatosis, atypical ductal hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma.

Slightly Higher Risk

  • Distant family history: this refers to breast cancer in more distant relatives such as aunts, grandmothers and cousins.
  • Large cysts in the breast: large cysts increase your risk, especially if accompanied by early atypical hyperplasia (abnormal cell changes in the breast). A previous breast biopsy result of atypical hyperplasia increases a woman’s breast cancer risk by four to five times.
  • Age at childbirth: having your child after age 30 or never having children puts you at higher risk.
  • Early menstruation: your risk increases if you got your period before age 12.
  • Late menopause: if you begin menopause after age 55, your risk increases.
  • Weight: being overweight (especially in the upper body) with excess caloric and fat intake, increases your risk, especially after menopause.
  • Excessive radiation: this is especially true for women who were given radiation for postpartum mastitis, received prolonged fluoroscopic X-rays for tuberculosis or who were exposed to a large amount of radiation before age 30 (usually as a treatment for cancers such as lymphoma or Hodgkin’s disease).
  • Other cancer in the family: a family history of cancer of the ovaries, cervix, uterus or colon increases your risk.
  • Heritage: female descendents of Eastern and Central European Jews (Ashkenazi) are at increased risk.
  • Race: breast cancer occurs more frequently in Caucasian women than Hispanic, Asian or African-American women.
  • Alcohol: the use of alcohol is linked to increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy: combination estrogen-progestin hormones taken during menopause increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer by 26 percent. This risk increases with longer use of hormones.

Low Risk

  • Pregnancy before age 18
  • Early onset of menopause
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries before age 40

Factors Not Related to Breast Cancer

  • Fibrocystic breast changes
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Coffee or caffeine intake
  • Antiperspirants
  • Underwire bras
  • Abortion
  • Breast implants

For more information on breast cancer, download the Free Breast Cancer Treatment Guide.