There is really no way to know for sure if you’re going to get breast cancer, though certain risk factors can make it more likely. However, having one or more risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will get breast cancer. In fact, you can have all the risk factors and never get breast cancer, or you can have no known risk factors and still get the disease.
If you agree with any of the following bolded statements, you may be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Some risk factors are out of your control, such as your age or family history. Others – like drinking one or more alcoholic drinks a day or taking hormones – are factors you can control.
Each time you agree with a statement, ask yourself if you are doing all that you can to control that particular risk factor. It may seem difficult, but your efforts can have a big payoff in terms of your health and quality of life. Ask your doctors and loved ones to help think of ways that you can lower your risk for breast cancer.
Know that researchers are continuing to study some of these factors to determine how much they can increase your risk for breast cancer. In some cases, more studies are needed to confirm the link to breast cancer.
I’m a woman.
Both men and women can get breast cancer. But more than 99% of the cases occur in women. Being a woman is the main risk factor for getting breast cancer.
I’m older than age 50.
Age is your next biggest risk factor. The older you are, the more likely you will get the disease. In fact, more than 80% of breast cancer cases are found in women older than age 50. The average age of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is 69. Though you can’t do anything to reduce this risk factor, as you get older, you can avoid those risk factors that are in your control.
I’ve had breast cancer.
If you’ve had cancer in one breast, you’re at an increased risk of getting it in the other breast. Keep all your follow-up appointments with your doctor and have yearly mammograms.
A female relative has had breast cancer.
If any female relative in your family (including your grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, or daughter) has had breast cancer, you have a higher risk of getting it, too. Your risk doubles if the woman is your mother, sister, or daughter. And it’s even higher if your relative had cancer in both breasts or was diagnosed before she went through menopause. Some research has shown a genetic link between women in the same family who have breast cancer. If breast cancer runs in your family, you can have genetic testing to find out if you have that abnormal gene. If you do, you can explore options to help prevent the disease. But just because you have the abnormal gene doesn’t mean you’ll get breast cancer. Therefore, it’s best to have genetic counseling first to know whether or not to get tested and to know what to do following testing. Some women choose to have one or both breasts surgically removed. Removing a healthy breast as a preventive measure is called a prophylactic mastectomy. Since surgery carries its own set of risks, talk this option over carefully with your doctor before making a decision.
I have benign breast disease.
There are two kinds of benign breast disease: nonproliferative and proliferative. Nonproliferative benign breast disease does not increase your risk for breast cancer. But if you have proliferative benign breast disease, your risk for breast cancer increases. Proliferative benign breast disease is an overgrowth of cells lining the ducts or lobules. If the multiplying cells look like normal breast tissue cells, your risk only increases by 1.5 to 2 times. If the cells look abnormal (called atypia), then your risk increases by 4 to 5 times. The only way to know if you have benign breast disease is by having a biopsy.
I’m older than age 30 and have never given birth.
If you’re older than age 30 and you’ve never given birth to a child, you have a slightly higher risk of getting breast cancer. That risk goes up a little more if you wait until age 35 or older to have your first child. Some evidence shows that your risk decreases the more children you have and the closer in age you have them. However, because so many factors should be considered before having a baby, you may be better off focusing on the other risk factors that you can control.