Being A Female and Having Breasts is The Highest Risk Factor

Breast Cancer Risks

What are the factors that may affect your risk of having breast cancer?

Some factors help increase the probability of having breast cancer and a selected few help lower risks. Some affect risk a great deal and others by only a small amount.

Scientific studies and researches have taught us a lot about cancer in general and breast cancer.  Yet, we still know very little about  what causes breast cancer to develop at a certain time in a certain person. 

Specialists in the field believe that a combination of risk factors are the main reasons (some of which are still unknown).However, which combination, when and why a certain combination of factors might cause breast cancer in one person, but not in another, is still unclear. 

What are risk factors?

Any variable that increases the probability of a person’s developing cancer is considered a Risk factor.

Risk factors play a role in  cancer development, but aren’t the direct cause in most cases. It is not uncommon to find women and men that tick all the boxes when it comes to risk factors and they never develop cancer. Learn and Understand these factors from a medical professional is a key step towards prevention.

This will allow you to  adjust your lifestyle accordingly and help  minimize and prevent all together the cancer development.

Most breast cancers are sporadic, meaning they develop from damage to a person’s genes that occurs by chance after they are born. There is no risk of passing this gene on to a person’s children.

One of the most misleading and misunderstood factors is Genetic History.

Genetic History

Inherited breast cancers are not common and they make up only 5% to 10% of cancers. 

Inherited breast cancer occurs when gene changes called mutations are passed down within a family from 1 generation to the next .  If a close relative – mother, sister or daughter – has been diagnosed with breast cancer, there is a higher probability that you could develop cancer yourself. Family history can happen due to lifestyle choices or genetic mutations.

 Many of those mutations are in tumor suppression genes, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. These genes normally keep cells from growing out of control and turning into cancer. But when these cells have a mutation, they can grow out of control.

When it comes to your own unique case and evaluating the risks that you could develop breast cancer, it is important to be aware of the fact  that most women who develop breast cancer have no obvious risk factors and no family history of breast cancer. Multiple risk factors influence the development of breast cancer. 

The conclusion is simple: all women need to monitor closely and be aware of changes in their breasts and schedule doctor visits to both talk about developments and for regular breast examinations. A doctor will know how to handle any suspicious changes  and  may resort to other tests such as mammograms ( x-rays of the breast) that can often detect a tumor that is too small to be felt.

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Risk Factors You Can't Control


The Highest Risk Factor


Being a woman is the most significant risk factor for developing breast cancer.

It may seem obvious, but it is a fact.

Although men can get breast cancer, too, the natural structure and complexity of women’s breast cells, enhances the probability of cancer development.

Breast cells constantly change and grow, mainly due to the female hormones estrogen and progesterone activity.

This activity puts them at much greater risk for breast cancer.


The Time Factor

A woman’s risk of getting breast cancer increases with age.
Simply growing older is the second biggest risk factor for breast cancer.  As women age, their more inclined to experience abnormal cell changes. Breast cancer is more common in women aged 40 and above, but that doesn’t mean youger women are at risk.
In fact, in recent years the women in their early 20’s have been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

For most women, the risk start to become more evident from age 30 to 39, when the risk is 1 in 228, or .44%.

The probability increases exponentially as women age and it jumps to 1 in 29, or just under 3.5%, by the time you are in your 60s.

family History

The inherited gene Factor


Some people have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than the general population because other members of their family have had particular cancers. This is called a family history of cancer.

Research have point out that individuals that had a close relative such as their mother, sister or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer approximately doubles their risk of breast cancer. This risk increases with the incidence of breast cancer cases with close relatives in the past, or if a relative developed breast cancer under the age of 50.

With that said, It doesn’t mean you will have cancer just because your family or closer relative had it.

THIS IS  VERY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND! Most women who have a close relative with breast cancer will never develop it.

Some people have an increased risk of breast cancer because they have an inherited gene fault.  

The scientific and medical community have encountered and studied several gene faults that can increase breast cancer risk and there are tests for some of them. Having one of these faulty genes means that you have a HIGHER PROBABILITY  to get breast cancer than someone who doesn’t. But it is not a certainty

Remember that most breast cancers happen by chance. Only about 2 out of every hundred (2%) are related to a change in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

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Individuals that have a 1st degree relative who had breast cancer, has a higher chance of developing it.
However, most will never develop cancer.
It is a probability, not certainty!

Radiation To The Chest Area


Exposure to radiation is known to increase the risk of many types of cancer. Most of us are never exposed to enough radiation to make much difference to our risk.

Nowadays, doctors keep medical exposure to radiation as low as possible. They don’t do x-rays or CT scans unless they really need to. And the amount of radiation used is very small.

Many women worry about having mammograms as part of breast screening because it exposes them to x-rays. But the amount of radiation you have with a mammogram is very small.


Radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer increases the risk of getting breast cancer in the other breast by a small amount. But this small risk is balanced by the need to treat the original breast cancer.

If you had radiotherapy to your chest area to treat another type of cancer your risk of developing breast cancer is higher than someone who hasn’t had radiotherapy. This is especially so for women who have had chest radiotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma in the past.

If you need radiotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma or any other type of cancer your doctors should tell you about this risk. They will offer you breast screening if it is appropriate. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure if you should have screening. 

It is important to remember that second cancers are usually found early when they can be successfully treated. Also, radiotherapy treatments are now more focused than in the past.


Female Hormone

Levels of the female sex hormone, oestrogen, and the male hormone, testosterone, can affect the risk of breast cancer. Women have small amounts of the male hormone testosterone in their bodies.

After the menopause, women with higher levels of oestrogen and testosterone in their blood have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women with the lowest levels. Women with higher levels of testosterone in their blood before menopause have a higher risk of breast cancer.

There is an increased risk of breast cancer in women with higher levels of a hormone called insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). 

It is not clear what controls levels of IGF-1 in the bloodstream. It is probably related to our genes, body weight, and how much exercise we do.

Breast cell Growth

Because the female hormone estrogen stimulates breast cell growth, exposure to estrogen over long periods of time, without any breaks, can increase the risk of breast cancer.

Some of these risk factors are not under your control, such as:

  • starting menstruation (monthly periods) at a young age (before age 12)
  • going through menopause (end of monthly cycles) at a late age (after 55)
  • exposure to estrogens in the environment (such as hormones in meat or pesticides such as DDT, which produce estrogen-like substances when broken down by the body)

Previous Cancer

Past history

If you had a previous diagnose, you fall in the category of patients that have a much higher chance of developing it again .Having had breast cancer increases your risk of getting another breast cancer. It might occur in the same breast or in the other breast.

Your doctor will be far more cautious with your condition. Doctors monitor your health very close and may request  you to come for regular check ups. The goal here is to protect you and try to prevent cancer to grown. this routine will give you the best chance to find a new cancer  early.  

It is important to say that having been diagnosed with other types of cancer can also increase your risk for breast cancer.

People who had radiotherapy to the chest for Hodgkin lymphoma when they were young have a higher breast cancer risk.

Breast cancer risk is also higher in people who have had any of the following:

  • melanoma skin cancer
  • lung cancer
  • bowel cancer
  • womb cancer
  • a type of leukaemia called chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

risk factors vary worldwide
Lifestyle and ethnicity are factors

Pregnancy and breast feeding

Pregnancy and breastfeeding reduce the overall number of menstrual cycles in a woman’s lifetime, and this appears to reduce future breast cancer risk. Women who have never had a full-term pregnancy, or had their first full-term pregnancy after age 30, have an increased risk of breast cancer. For women who do have children, breastfeeding may slightly lower their breast cancer risk, especially if they continue breastfeeding for 1 1/2 to 2 years.

For many women, however, breastfeeding for this long is neither possible nor practical.

Not Having Children or Late Pregnancy

Whether you can have children or when you have them may not be something you can control. Women who have children have a slightly lower risk of breast cancer than women who don’t have children. The risk reduces further the more children you have.

Your age when you have your first child also has an effect. The younger you are when you have your first child, the lower your risk.

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Age is An important risk factor:
Older Women (men) Have a Higher risk
Of Cancer Than Younger Women

risks You Can Control


Does Obesity cause cancer


Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer in many countries, including the Us and UK. In these countries, more than 1 in 20 cancer cases are caused by excess weight
The risk is higher the more weight a person gains and the longer they maintain the excess weight. 
The good news is small changes that are kept up over time can make a real difference
Women who are overweight after their menopause have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who are not overweight. Being overweight is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, Fat tissue is the body’s main source of estrogen after menopause, when the ovaries stop producing the hormone. Having more fat tissue means having higher estrogen levels, which can increase breast cancer risk.

Men also have an increased risk of breast cancer if they are overweight or obese.

Doctors consider an individual being overweight when she/he has a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 30. Obesity means being very overweight with a BMI of 30 or higher.

Keeping yourself under these threshold increase your chances of reducing your probability of being diagnosed with breast cancer, but also a plethora of diseases. It is important to try to keep a healthy weight by being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

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The Role Of Nutrition on Breast Cancer

Studies are looking at the relationship between diet and breast cancer risk and the risk of recurrence. The Women’s Health Initiative Trial suggested that a diet very low in fat may reduce the risk of breast cancer. More research is needed in this important area for women who are interested in eating well to reduce their risk of ever getting breast cancer.

In the meantime, here’s what dietitians suggest:

  • Keep your body weight in a healthy range for your height and frame. Body mass index, though not a perfect measurement, can help you estimate your healthy weight.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit (more than 5 cups a day).
  • Try to limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your total calories per day and limit your fat intake to about 30 grams per day.
  • Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Avoid trans fats, processed meats, and charred or smoked foods.

You’ll find that processed foods generally don’t fit in this type of diet as well as fresh foods do. 

Alcohol Comsumption

The less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer. No type of alcohol is better or worse than another, it is the alcohol itself that leads to the damage, regardless of whether it is in wine, beer or spirits. And drinking and smoking together are even worse for you.

Every year, drinking too much alcohol causes 3% of cancers in the UK, around 11,900 cases. Not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop cancer. But on the whole, scientists have found that some cancers are more common in people who drink more alcohol than others.  

Which is worse: binge drinking or spreading my drinking across the week?

Research has looked mainly at the amount of alcohol people drink in total and the effect on cancer risk. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer whether you drink it all in one go or a bit at a time.

How much alcohol does it take to increase cancer risk?

There’s no ‘safe’ limit for alcohol when it comes to cancer, but the risk is smaller for people who drink within the government guidelines.

Read more about how to cut down on alcohol.

Regularly drinking up to a pint of premium lager or a large glass of wine a day can increase the risk of mouth, upper throat, oesophageal (food pipe), breast and bowel cancers. These drinks both include about 3 units of alcohol.

Each unit of alcohol has a weaker effect on the risk of breast cancer than on cancers of the head and neck, but because breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and because so many women drink small amounts of alcohol regularly, a large number of women are affected – around 4,400 cases of breast cancer each year in the UK are caused by drinking alcohol.

What’s the link between alcohol and breast cancer?

4,400 cases of breast cancer each year in the UK are caused by drinking alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t have a very big impact on your risk of breast cancer but the link can be seen even at low levels of drinking. And because breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, many women are affected.

What is acetaldehyde and how can it cause cancer?

In our bodies, alcohol (ethanol) is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde.

It can cause cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage. The International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified acetaldehyde formed as a result of drinking alcohol as being a cause of cancer, along with alcohol itself.

Acetaldehyde also causes liver cells to grow faster than normal. These regenerating cells are more likely to pick up changes in their genes that could lead to cancer.

Ethanol is broken down mainly by the liver, but lots of other cell types can do this as well. Some of the bacteria that live in our mouths and the linings of our guts are also able to convert ethanol into acetaldehyde.

How can alcohol’s effects on oestrogen and other hormones lead to cancer?

Alcohol can increase the levels of some hormones, such as oestrogen. Hormones act as messengers in the body, giving our cells instructions such as when to divide. Unusually high levels of oestrogen increase the risk of breast cancer.

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Hormone replacement Therapy

Many women take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce menopausal symptoms. There are 2 main types of HRT: combined HRT (oestrogen and progesterone) and oestrogen only HRT. 

HRT increases the risk of breast cancer while women take it and for up to 5 years afterwards. Combined HRT (oestrogen and progesterone) is more likely to cause breast cancer than oestrogen only HRT.

Because the female hormone estrogen stimulates breast cell growth, exposure to estrogen over long periods of time, without any breaks, can increase the risk of breast cancer. Some of these risk factors are under your control, such as:

  • taking combined hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone; HRT) for several years or more, or taking estrogen alone for more than 10 years
  • being overweight
  • regularly drinking alcohol

HRT can have some health benefits and so if you are worried about taking it, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks in your individual situation.

Contraceptive pill

The use of birth control pills plays a small role in the risk of female breast cancer.  By all accounts it is know to be a very small increased risk and it is mostly present during the period when you take the contraceptive pill. This increase in risk goes back to normal 10 years after you stop taking it.

Remember that breast cancer is rare in young women. Most women who take the pill are in their late teens, twenties and early thirties. So a small increase in this risk during the time women take the pill means very few extra cases of breast cancer.


Doctors From Memorial sloan Kettering
Breast cancer risks & Myths

Articles Sources – Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Cancer Treatment Centers Of America – Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Maurer Foundation for Breast Health Education -Risk factors For breast Cancer

National Cancer Institute – risk factors For Cancer

Cancer Research UK – Breast Cancer Risks and Causes

Susan G. Komen – Komen Perspectives – Breast cancer in Women Younger Than 40