Many risk factors contribute to the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer:
Age is the most important risk factor. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. The reason is that the wear and tear of living increases the chance that a genetic abnormality, or “mistake,” will develop in cells that your body doesn't find and fix.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately 18% of diagnoses of breast cancer occur in women who are in their 40s. In contrast, the ACS estimates that 77% of diagnoses of breast cancer occur in women older than 50 years of age.
The following are some examples of the risk of women at different ages being diagnosed with breast cancer.
— From birth to age 39, 1 woman in 231 will get
breast cancer (<0.5% risk).
— From ages 40–59, the chance is 1 in 25 (4% risk).
— From ages 60–79, the chance is 1 in 15 (nearly 7% risk).
— Assuming that you live to 90, the chance of getting breast cancer over the course of an entire lifetime, is 1 in 8 (an overall lifetime risk of 12.5%).
Presence of abnormalities in certain genes. The risk of breast cancer in women with abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes is 3 times to 7 times higher than the risk in other women.
Menstrual history. Women who begin menstruating at an early age (before 12) and women who reach menopause after age 50 have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Delayed childbirth. Women who have their first child after 30 or who have never had a child are at a higher risk for breast cancer.
Personal history. Women who have had cancer in one breast are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop breast cancer in the other breast than those women who have never had breast cancer.
Family history. Having a first degree relative (i.e., mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer can double a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption. Drinking on a daily basis can increase a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer. Women who drink 4-5 alcoholic beverages a day were found to have a 41% increase in risk factor for developing invasive breast cancer, compared to women who do not drink alcohol.
Smoking. Smoking is known to increase the risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Diet. Diets high in fats, especially polysaturated fats, hydrogenated fats, and transfatty acids, increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Weight. New studies are showing that women who have gained excess weight as adults are at greater risk of developing breats cancer. Women who have been heavy all their lives are not at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Previous radiation therapy. Women who have had previous radiation therapy (e.g.: for lymphoma) are at increased risk. This is especially true for women who underwent radiation therapy at an earlier age.
Regardless of what risk factors you have, you can take charge of maintaining breast health. Be diligent about monitoring breast health, and stay current with monthly self-breast exams, annual clinical breast exams and mammograms. Consult your doctor for advice about other preventative measures that you can consider.
The key is to not allow yourself to be consumed with worry. A healthy lifestyle and a positive attitude are great contributors to wellness.