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Beast Cancer Risk Factors

What are risk factors?

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, exposing skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for many types of cancers including breast cancer.

But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get breast cancer. Most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors (other than being a woman and growing older). Even when a woman with risk factors develops breast cancer, it is hard to know just how much these factors may have contributed to her cancer.

There are different kinds of risk factors. Some factors, like a person’s age or race, can’t be changed. Others are linked to cancer-causing factors in the environment. Still others are related to personal behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and diet. Some factors influence risk more than others and your risk for breast cancer can change over time due to factors such as aging or lifestyle.

It is important to note that breast cancers can occur even if you don’t have any risk factors. This is why regular mammography screening is important for early detection of breast cancer. The Carol Milgard Breast Center and TRA Medical Imaging advise women to get screening mammograms every year starting at age 40.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), below is a list of risk factors for breast cancer. More details can be found on  the ACS website.

Risk Factors You Cannot Change

  • Gender – being a woman in the main risk for developing breast cancer
  • Aging – your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older
  • Genetic risk factors – about 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, resulting directly from gene defects (called mutations) inherited from a parent
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Certain benign breast conditions
  • Menstrual periods (Women who have had more menstrual cycles because they started menstruating early [before age 12] and/or went through menopause later [after age 55] have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer)
  • Previous chest radiation
  • Various other factors may affect an individual’s risks to one degree or another

Lifestyle-Related Factors and Breast Cancer Risk

Factors That Increase Risk:

  • Recent use of birth control pills or DMPA
  • Hormone therapy after menopause
  • Alcohol use
  • Being overweight or obese

Factors That Reduce Risk:

  • Having children
  • Breastfeeding
  • Physical activity

Male Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors for breast cancer in men include:

  • Advanced age
  • Prior radiation exposure to the chest
  • Exogenous estrogen
  • Liver disease
  • Androgen deficiency
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Klinefelter Syndrome

Learn more about the risk factors for breast disease in men from the American Cancer Society.


Help reduce your risk of breast cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Adding exercise to your routine
  • Limiting your use of alcohol

Additional prevention tips can be found here. 

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