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Know Your Risk Factors

Your risk for developing breast cancer is a combination of various factors. The main factors that contribute to risk is gender and age. Women are more likely to get breast cancer than men. Your risk of developing the disease increases as you get older. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, risk factors for breast cancer include:

Risk factors you cannot change

  • Getting older. The risk increases with age.
  • Genetic mutations. Mutations to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, put women who inherited them at greater risk.
  • Reproductive history. Early menarche (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55), increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Dense breast tissue. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain kinds of non-cancerous breast disease.
  • Family history of breast cancer. A woman’s risk is higher if she has a mother, sister or daughter or multiple family members who have had breast cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also increases risk.
  • Prior treatment using radiation therapy to the chest or breast area before age 30 increases the risk of breast cancer later in life.
  • Use of the drug DES, which was used to prevent miscarriage in the U.S. between 1940 and 1971.

Risk factors you can change

  • Physical inactivity. Women who are not physically active are at greater risk.
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause.
  • Taking hormones. Some forms of HRT taken during menopause can increase the risk when taken for more than five years. Some oral contraceptives have also been shown to increase the risk.
  • Never having a full-term pregnancy, never breast-feeding, or having the first pregnancy after age 30 increases risk.
  • Alcohol use increases risk.
  • Smoking, exposure chemicals shown to cause cancer, and hormonal changes caused by night-shift work may increase cancer risk.
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