Breast Cancer Risks

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Breast Cancer Risks

Many women with several risk factors may never develop breast cancer, while others with no risk factors develop the disease.

  • Being a woman is a risk factor by itself. Men can also develop breast cancer but women have 100 times more chances of getting the disease.
  • Age increases the risk of cancer.
  • Late menopause after 50 years, or starting periods before 12 years, as exposure to hormones is for a longer period.
  • Genetic predisposition: 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary due to gene defects (mutations) passed on from a parent. Women with strong family history of breast / ovarian cancer, history of any female family member with bilateral breast cancer, male member with breast cancer, history of breast cancer under the age of 40 years etc are considered for genetic testing to check for hereditary predisposition.
  • A personal history of invasive breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, lobular carcinoma in situ or atypical hyperplasia
  • Previous radiation treatment to the chest area before the age of 10 years
  • Delayed childbearing after age 30, women who do not breastfeed their children or those who never had children
  • Obesity or being overweight, especially after menopause, increases the risk.
  • Having dense breasts, which means more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which also makes it hard to visualise the tumour on mammogram
  • Using combination hormone therapy to replace the lack of oestrogen or progesterone in menopause for more than five years, increases the risk.
  • The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking increases the risk in pre-menopausal or younger women.
  • Exposure to chemicals in cosmetics, sunscreen, pesticides, hormones used on crops and livestock, preservatives etc.

Modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors are as below:

Non-modifiable risk factors

Modifiable risk factors

Female gender and advanced age

Excessive body weight

Personal history of cancer

Lack of physical activity

Family cancer history and genetics

Excessive alcohol intake

Early menarche and late menopause


Higher breast density

Excessive exposure to external hormones Hormone replacement therapy

Some of the benign breast conditions

Nulliparity / delayed child bearing and lack of breast feeding


Radiation exposure in childhood