Reduce Your Risk for Breast Cancer
Understand Your Risk for Breast Cancer
In the U.S., breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women, second only to some types of skin cancer.1 Although breast cancer is most common in women over age 50, it can develop at any age. Though rare, breast cancer can also develop in men.
The two biggest risk factors for breast cancer are age and being a woman. But several other factors also influence your risk for developing cancer. Understanding what the risks are and how big of an effect they have can help you take steps to protect yourself.
Be HealthAware! Early detection of cancer saves lives. If you are concerned about your own risk of developing cancer or another health issue, take one of our free HealthAware risk assessment tests[JE1] . By taking five minutes to answer a few questions, we can help you assess your risk factors as well as guide you on how you can take action to reduce your level of risk for many different health conditions.
Common Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Breast cancer risk factors fall into three primary categories. There are risk factors that are out of people's control, such as getting older, being born female, and having certain genes, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Family history is another risk factor that is outside of your control.
The second category of risk factors is lifestyle related. You typically have some control over these. They include consuming alcohol and taking hormones, including hormone replacement therapy in menopause and oral contraceptives. Being physically inactive or obese can also increase breast cancer risk.
When or if you decide to have children, and if you decide to breastfeed them, doing so for at least a year may lower your risk. Waiting until you are over age 30 to have children or not having children at all can increase your risk for cancer.2
Other potential risk factors for breast cancer include:
● Starting to menstruate at an early age
● Delayed menopause
● Having dense breasts
Some factors that were previously thought to increase breast cancer risk have been disproven. For example, wearing antiperspirants doesn't increase your breast cancer risk. Neither does wearing a bra.3
What Affects Your Breast Cancer Risk
It's important to understand that having a risk factor for cancer doesn't mean that you are going to develop breast cancer. All women have a risk for breast cancer because they are women, but not all women end up developing cancer.
Additionally, you don't have to feel guilty about making certain life choices due to cancer risk. Women who have children later on or who never have children have a higher risk for breast cancer, but the risk alone isn't a reason to have children or to get pregnant before you are ready.
The relationship between breast cancer and some risk factors is complicated. For example, being obese does increase the risk of cancer, but when weight gain occurred also seems to play a role. Women who become obese later in life seem to have a higher risk for cancer than women who were always overweight or obese.2
How to Reduce Your Risk for Breast Cancer
Since many breast cancer risk factors are beyond your control, there's no surefire way to prevent cancer. What you can do is look for the risk factors you can change and attempt to reduce them.
Reducing your alcohol consumption or avoiding alcohol entirely can help to lower your risk of cancer. Being physically active and working to maintain a healthy weight can also help to keep your risk for breast cancer low.
If you're concerned about how hormonal contraceptives and hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) affect your cancer risk, talk to your physician before deciding to start or stop using them. For some women, the benefits of contraceptives or HRT outweigh the risks.
Certain medicines can help reduce cancer risk in women who have a higher-than-average risk of developing cancer. The medications can cause side effects, so taking them isn't a decision to make lightly. Your physician can provide guidance and help you determine if medication is an option for you.
1. Breast Cancer Statistics, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/
2. Lifestyle Related Breast Cancer Risk Factors, American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/lifestyle-related-breast-cancer-risk-factors.html
3. Disproven or Controversial Breast Cancer Risk Factors, American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/disproven-or-controversial-breast-cancer-risk-factors.html