Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Although the exact cause of breast cancer is not known, most experts agree that there are several factors that increase your risk of breast cancer.
Top risk factors linked to breast cancer
Aging. Your risk of breast cancer increases as you get older. By age group, breast cancer is diagnosed in:7
Being female. Although breast cancer can occur in men, most breast cancer is found in women.
Conditions that increase the risk of developing breast cancer
Personal history of breast cancer. Women who have had breast cancer in one breast have an increased chance of having another breast cancer. The breast cancer can come back in the same breast, in the opposite breast, or in other areas of the body, such as the lungs, liver, brain, or bones.
Family history. A woman's risk of breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, daughter, or two or more other close relatives, such as cousins, have a history of breast cancer, especially if they were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50.
Breast changes. Women who have atypical hyperplasia, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or who have had two or more breast biopsies for other noncancerous conditions are more likely to have breast cancer.
Other factors that increase the risk of breast cancer
Race. In the United States, breast cancer occurs more frequently in white women than in black, Hispanic, or Asian women. But black women are more likely to get breast cancer at a younger age and are also more likely to die of breast cancer.5 This may be linked in part to genetic differences—an aggressive type of breast cancer called basal-like tumor seems most likely to affect young African-American women. Lower survival rates among black women may also be linked to lower-quality health care.2
Radiation therapy. Women whose breasts were exposed to significant amounts of radiation at a young age, especially those who were treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma, have an increased risk for developing breast cancer. Studies show that the younger a woman was when she received her treatment, the higher her risk for developing breast cancer later in life.5
Late or no childbearing. Women who had their first child after the age of 30 have a greater chance of developing breast cancer than women who had their children at a younger age. Women who never had children have an increased risk for developing breast cancer.
Not breast-feeding. Women who don't breast-feed have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who breast-feed. The more months of breast-feeding, the lower the breast cancer risk.
Hormones. Female hormones play a part in some types of breast cancer.
For more information about your personal risk level, go to www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool.
In most cases, experts cannot explain why a woman develops breast cancer. Studies show that most women who develop the disease do not have any of the risk factors listed above, other than the risk that comes with growing older. Also, most women with known risk factors, except for BRCA mutations, do not develop breast cancer. Research continues into the causes of breast cancer to learn more about risk factors and ways of preventing this disease.
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