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Breast Cancer Risk

Three Generations of Family with Baby

Many factors play a role in your risk for breast cancer. Understanding your risk is vital to detecting breast cancer early and taking steps toward prevention. At the Abramson Cancer Center, we identify your chances of developing breast cancer and provide personalized medical recommendations. We offer risk assessment, screening, genetic counseling and support for anyone who may be at an increased risk for breast cancer.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Most women have a 12 percent chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetimes, and the possibility for men is much lower. But certain factors can put you at a higher risk. Some of those factors, such as lifestyle choices, are within your control. Others, such as age and family history, cannot be changed.

Risk Factors You Cannot Change

Fixed risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Gender. Women are much more likely to develop breast cancer than men.
  • Age. Breast cancer risk increases with age, with most breast cancers developing after the age of 50.
  • Genetic mutations. Inherited gene mutations cause approximately 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed breast cancers. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common genetic mutations related to breast cancer, though others can also increase your risk.
  • Family history. Your risk increases if your mother, sister, father or child had breast cancer, especially if the diagnosis was before the age of 50.
  • Menstrual and reproductive health history. Women who menstruated early (before the age of 12), entered menopause late (after 55), gave birth at an older age or never gave birth have an increased risk for breast cancer.
  • Dense breast tissue. Having dense breasts increases your risk and often makes breast masses harder to detect.
  • Personal breast history. Benign breast conditions or a previous breast cancer increase the chances of developing a new breast cancer.

Risk Factors You Can Change

Your chances of breast cancer can be reduced by changing risk factors such as:

  • Physical inactivity: Breast cancer risk increases with a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Being overweight or obese: An unhealthy weight increases your risk of breast cancer, especially if you are overweight or obese following menopause.
  • Alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol frequently increases your risk of breast cancer.
  • Taking hormones: Taking hormone replacement therapy for more than five years during menopause increases your risk of breast cancer. Some oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also raise your risk.
  • Giving Birth: Your chances of breast cancer increase if you never have biological children, have your first child after the age of 35 or never breastfeed.
  • Radiation to the chest: Having radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30 may increase your risk.

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment at the Abramson Cancer Center

A genetic risk assessment for breast cancer can determine your screening regimen, treatment options and follow-up care. At the Mariann and Robert MacDonald Cancer Risk Evaluation Center, we offer genetic counseling and testing. Whether you suspect you are at an increased risk or already have a breast cancer diagnosis, understanding your cancer risk provides you with options.

Our genetic counselors use their experience and advanced training to create a personalized plan based on your specific cancer risk. We coordinate your care and guide you through any difficult decisions about screening, prevention and treatment.

Our Focus on BRCA Gene Mutations

If you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you have up to a 75 percent risk of developing breast cancer in your lifetime. To help you manage that risk, we created a center devoted to people and families with a BRCA mutation. The Basser Center for BRCA, founded by Mindy and Jon Gray, is the first comprehensive center focused on the prevention, treatment and research of BRCA-related cancers.

We offer specialized genetic counseling, intensive screening, education and support. Our extensive research on BRCA-related cancers provides you with access to innovative treatments and advanced clinical care.