Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Anything that increases the chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. There are different kinds of risk factors including genetics, environment, age, race, and personal choices such as drinking or smoking.

Having a risk factor does not necessarily mean that you will get cancer. Even when a woman with breast cancer has a risk factor, there is not way to prove that it actually caused her cancer. There are some risk factors that cannot be changed, such as gender, age, and race.

If you are female, your gender is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. While it's true that men can develop breast cancer, it is about 100 times more common among women than men. The female breast cells are constantly exposed to the growth promoting effects of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones make the breast vulnerable to breast cancer.

Genetics pose a risk factor in developing breast cancer. People who have a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer are at higher risk of developing the disease than those who have no family history. Your risk can more than double if you have a direct relative who has been diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50. This includes a mother, sister, grandmother, or aunt.

If you have inherited certain genes from a parent, you are at increased risk for breast cancer. These genetic mutations are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These genes normally help to prevent cancer by making proteins that keep cells from growing abnormally. However, if these genes mutate, your risk for developing breast cancer increases dramatically.

As you age, your risk of developing breast cancer increase. Approximately 80 percent of invasive breast cancer is diagnosed in women who are 50 years of age or older. About 15 percent of cancer diagnoses occur in women in their 40s. The remaining 5 percent occur in women between the ages of 13 and 39.

Your race also plays a role in breast cancer risk. Caucasian women have a higher incidence of breast cancer than African-American women. However, African-American women tend to have more aggressive forms of breast cancer and are more likely to die from the disease. Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be a risk factor in developing breast cancer. Alcohol consumption and high-fat diets have shown to increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Alcohol is also known to increase the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, and esophagus.