Risk Factors

Having one or more risk factor(s) means that your chance of getting breast cancer may go up, but it does not mean you will get breast cancer. But, not having any of the risk factors does not mean you won’t get breast cancer. There are some risk factors you can do something about & others you can’t.  Below is a list of current risk factors:

  • Being a woman
  • Getting older
  • Having had cancer before
  • Having been treated with chest radiation when young
  • High breast density, which means you have more tissue than fat in your breast
  • Carcinoma in situ, which means there are a large number of cells growing in your breast that are not normal.
  • Hyperplasia, which means cells in your breast are growing faster than normal
  • Gaining weight after menopause
  • Being of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Having a family member with breast cancer. Most breast cancers are caused by gene changes that are not passed down in families. There are also very specific gene changes that scientists have given special names to (e.g. BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes). Only a small number of breast cancers are caused by these very specific genes, but they are more common in younger women.
  • Having more than one alcoholic drink each day. Alcohol actually changes how your body metabolizes (or reacts to) estrogen. It leaves higher amounts of estrogen in your body than someone who does not drink.
  • Being tall. This is because growth spurts that happen when you are younger create more chances for damage to happen to your breast cells. Tall people probably have more of these growth spurts during their life.
  • Being of high socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status is a way of comparing families based on their income, education, and job. Women of higher socioeconomic status seem to have children later in life than others or do not have children at all (which are both risk factors) and they also tend to breastfeed less (which lowers breast cancer risk).
  • Higher amounts of the hormone estrogen in your body, which can be caused by:
    • Not having children
    • Having children after age 35
    • Getting your first period before age 12
    • Going through menopause after age 55
    • Use of hormones during/after menopause
    • Use of birth control pills

There are many risk factors people talk about that are not associated with breast cancer. For example, the use of underwire bras and deodorants and even smoking. Komen’s website addresses all of these myths, as well as other factors that are still being studied.

There is so much information in the media and on the web, and it can sometimes be hard to know what is true. Science changes all the time so it is important to keep up-to-date on these risk factors. Look for health information on reputable sites, such as those that end in .org or.gov.

Check back with http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/LowerYourRisk.html frequently.