8 Ways Young Women Can Decrease Their Breast Cancer Risk


In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched the Bring Your Brave Campaign to make young women, ages 18-44, aware of their risk factors for developing breast cancer. While most breast cancers occur in women over 50, the CDC states that 11% of new breast cancers are diagnosed in women less than 45 years of age.

What does 11% look like annually? In 2015, the American Cancer Society estimated that there would be 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer, diagnosed in U.S. women. In addition, there would be 60,290 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS), a non-invasive and earliest form of breast cancer diagnosed in women. This would bring the total number of new cases of breast cancer to 292,130. Using the CDC percentage of 11%, that means that in 2015, about 32,134 young women, under the age of 45 will get a breast cancer diagnosis.

Breast cancer, at any age, is a serious frightening and life-threatening experience. For young women, it is also a  major life-changer occurring when most women 18-44 are continuing their education, dating, getting married, raising a family, and growing a career.

 Because many young women fail to realize they can get breast cancer, they don’t get routine comprehensive breast exams or start mammograms early. Consequently, their breast cancers are found at a later stage when they are more advanced, and harder to treat. Many do not know their family history, and the significance of having breast cancer in the family.

While there are specific risk factors for breast cancer that young women all have, such as being a woman and having breast tissue, there are certain risk factors that place women younger than 45 at higher risk, including women with:

  • Family members diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45
  • Family members diagnosed with ovarian cancer at any age
  • A male relative diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Close relatives with changes in their BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but have not been tested themselves
  • An Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • A past history of radiation therapy to the breast or chest in childhood or as a young adult
  • A history of breast health problems
  • Dense breasts confirmed on a mammogram

Young women with any of these risk factors need to speak with their physician and review their family history in detail. Genetic counseling and testing for BRCA gene mutations will likely be recommended to women whose family history reflects certain types of breast and ovarian cancers.

Each woman’s discussion with her physician needs to include a plan for managing risk factors, such as having breast cancer screening. While screenings won’t prevent breast cancer, cancers caught in screenings are usually found at an early stage, when they are easier to treat and have a better outcome. 

Young women can reduce their risk for getting breast cancer by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Getting at least four hours of exercise a week
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Limiting alcoholic intake to one drink per day
  • Avoiding exposure to cancer-causing chemicals
  • Whenever possible reduce exposure to radiation during medical tests such as, X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans
  • Discuss the risks of taking, hormone therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), with the doctor prior to beginning to do so.
  • Opt to breastfeed, if possible.

The CDC confirms that having risk factors for breast cancer doesn’t mean it is a given that a young woman will get breast cancer, nor does it mean that not having known risk factors is a guarantee she won’t.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bring Your Brave Campaign

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Risk Factors for Breast Cancer at a Young Age

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bring Your Brave Campaign. Genetic Counseling and Testing

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast Cancer. What Is Breast Cancer Screening?

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast Cancer. What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast Cancer. What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?