When calculating your personal breast cancer risk, consider any factors that may increase your risk of developing the disease. While certain factors may increase your risk more than others, the National Cancer Institute estimates that 5 to 10 percent of all women with breast cancer had a strong family history of the disease. Although there is no absolute way to determine if you will get breast cancer, being aware of the risk factors and making some lifestyle changes may help reduce the risk of developing the disease.
Take into account your age, race and ethnicity. Although being a woman is your greatest risk factor, the chance of getting breast cancer increases as you grow older. Breast cancer occurs most often in women over the age of 50. Race can be a risk factor as well. While fewer black women in the U.S. get breast cancer than women from other racial backgrounds, according to a study published in “Breast Cancer Research”, the disease tends to be more advanced in black women by the time it is diagnosed. Black women are also at an increased risk of the cancer recurring. While access to health care may be a factor in the death rate of young black women with any type of breast cancer, research points to a more aggressive subtype of breast cancer more prevalent in black women. This particular breast cancer is harder to treat.
Recall how old you were at the onset of your first menstrual cycle. Beginning menstruation at a younger age puts you more at risk. Another factor to consider is how old you were when you gave birth to your first child. Having your first baby after age 30 or never giving birth at all can increase your risk.
Consider your medical history. If you were previously diagnosed with breast cancer, including any benign conditions, your risk of developing breast cancer increases. Women who have already had breast cancer in one breast are more likely to develop a new cancer in the other breast. The risk increases more each year following the original diagnosis.
Research the medical histories of other women in your family. Find out if your mother, sister or aunt has had breast cancer. If one or more of your daughters have had breast cancer, that also increases your risk.
Factor in whether you have ever had reason for a breast biopsy even if the results were negative. Although atypical hyperplasia is a noncancerous condition, do not discount any breast biopsies that have come back with that result.
Talk to your doctor about other potential risk factors. You may have to make some lifestyle changes. Even though there isn’t a way to know for certain how much particular factors may contribute to increasing your risk, obesity, drinking too much alcohol, eating a diet high in saturated fats, using oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy may each play a role. Any previous mammograms showing dense breast tissue, your age at menopause and certain environmental factors may also put you at a higher risk.
Regardless of Risk…
You must take care of yourself, even if you are low-risk. Do self breast exams, get mammograms, and talk to your doctor. You can never be too cautious!
- While not cancer, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) increases the chance of developing cancer in a breast. In the case of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), cells have begun to turn cancerous but have not yet spread into the surrounding breast tissue. Careful follow-up is recommended for women diagnosed with either one of these conditions.