Breast Cancer

A risk factor is something that increases or decreases your chances of developing a disease such as cancer. But just because you have one risk factor, or several, does not mean you will be diagnosed with the disease. A woman may have ovarian cancer for no apparent reason, while another doesn’t have breast cancer even though her mother and other family members have been diagnosed with the disease.

So do you have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer? To estimate cancer risk you have to look at a number of risk factors:

  • Being a woman. Women are about 100 times more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
  • Being older. Approximately two-thirds of invasive breast cancers are diagnosed in women age 55 or older. Fifty percent of all ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women over the age of 63.
  • Inheriting certain gene defects. Between five and 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary. The inherited gene mutation called BRCA1 and BRCA2 is the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer. The same genes also raise the chances of ovarian cancer.
  • Having a family history of the disease. A woman’s risk of breast cancer doubles if she has one first-degree relative with the disease and approximately triples with two first-degree relatives. Chances of ovarian cancer also get higher depending on the number of relatives with the disease.
  • Having a personal history of breast cancer. A woman who has had cancer in one breast has a three- to four-fold higher chance of developing a new cancer in either the other breast or another part of the same breast. She also may have an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Being white. White women are more likely to develop breast cancer than black women, but black women are more likely to die of breast cancer1f.
  • Having dense breast tissue. These women who have more glandular tissue than fatty tissue have a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Having certain benign breast conditions. Depending on the type of benign breast condition, a woman’s risk for breast cancer can increase one and a half to two times, up to four to five times higher than average.
  • Having more menstrual cycles. Women who started menstruating before age 12 or stopped after age 55 have an elevated breast cancer risk.
  • Giving birth. Women who have had children have a lower risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. 
  • Being overweight. Overweight women have a higher chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Undergoing gynecologic surgery. Having a tubal ligation decreases a woman’s chances of ovarian cancer by 67% and a hysterectomy by 33%.
  • Taking fertility drugs. The use of certain fertility drugs for longer than one year could increase the chance of developing ovarian tumors.

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