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What does it mean to have higher risk factors for breast cancer?

Essentially, a breast cancer risk factor is anything that may make you more likely to get breast cancer. But this said, likely doesn’t mean definitely. It’s very important to understand that having one risk factor, or even having several risk factors, doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop breast cancer. In fact, many women who develop breast cancer have zero risk factors – that is, other than being women.

Why’s it so important to know about risk factors? Easy – it can save your life: as terrifying as the idea of breast cancer can be, the fact remains that the more aware you are of potential health situations, the better equipped you are to handle those situations as quickly as possible – and live longer. And live better.

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This said, here are some of the major factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer:

Being female. Being a woman is a beautiful thing, but unfortunately, females are much more likely than males to develop breast cancer.

Increasing age. Getting older increasing your breast cancer risk. In fact, here’s a chart from the National Cancer Institute that lists women’s average breast cancer risks by age:

• Age 30 – 0.44 percent (or 1 in 227)

• Age 40 – 1.47 percent (or 1 in 68)

• Age 50 – 2.38 percent (or 1 in 42)

• Age 60 – 3.56 percent (or 1 in 28)

• Age 70 – 3.82 percent (or 1 in 26)

A prior breast cancer diagnosis. If you’ve had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing it in the other.

A family history of breast cancer. If your mother, sister or daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk of breast cancer is increased.

Inherited genes that increase cancer risk. Certain inherited gene mutations can increase the risk of breast cancer. The most common ones are referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Radiation exposure. If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, your risk of breast cancer is increased.

Obesity. Being obese increases your risk of breast cancer.

Early period start. Beginning your period before age 12 increases your risk of breast cancer.

Older period start. If you began menopause at an older age, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer.

Having your first child at an older age. Women who give birth to their first child after age 35 may have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Having never been pregnant. Women who have never been pregnant have a greater risk of breast cancer than do women who have had one or more pregnancies.

Postmenopausal hormone therapy. Women who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer decreases when women stop taking these medications.

Drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.

For more information on breast cancer, visit Mayo Clinic at

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What Exactly Is A Risk Factor?  was originally published on