Breast Cancer Prevention: Risk Factors

Breast Self Exam. National Cancer Institute

Is breast cancer prevention possible? It seems everyone you meet either has or knows someone who has had breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates in 2018, 266,120 women and 2,550 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in America. An additional 61,000 new cases of in situ breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. Although some of the factors that contribute to the development of breast cancer are known, there is no guaranteed way to prevent it. But by educating yourself and taking control of some lifestyle factors, you can lower your risk of developing breast cancer.

Understanding Your Risk

Your risk of developing breast cancer is calculated by looking at several factors, some of which you are born with, and some of which you can choose. Knowing your health background will help you and your doctor make good choices about lifestyle and health care, which can lower your risk of breast cancer. You can try online risk assessment tools, but don’t use these as a substitute for talking with your doctor.

Risk Factors You Can't Control

  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men, but keep in mind that men do develop breast cancer.
  • Genes. A genetic predisposition is felt to be responsible for 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers.
  • Race. White people are more likely to develop breast cancer than other races.
  • Age. The risk of breast cancer increases with age.
  • Drugs and treatments. Some medications may increase and others decrease risk.
  • Menses onset and age of menopause. An early age of menarche (first period) or late menopause increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Medical radiation to the chest. Radiation therapy to the chest, for example for Hodgkin's disease, increases the risk of breast cancer, especially radiation at a young age.
  • Dense breasts. Women with dense breasts are more likely to develop the disease than women without dense breasts.

Risk Factors You Can Control

Protect Your Breast Health

Ongoing Research

Chemoprevention. Since estrogen fuels 80 percent of all breast cancers, the trials have focused on drugs that affect estrogen levels. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) such as Tamoxifen and Raloxifene have been tested and appear to help prevent the development of breast cancer. Aromatase inhibitors, such as exemestane and anastrozole, help prevent estrogen production and are being evaluated for their ability to prevent breast cancer.

Genetic Predisposition. Genetic tests for BRCA1 and BRCA2 are now available to help women determine the degree of risk they may face. In very high-risk patients, preventive mastectomy may be considered, as well as oophorectomy (removal of ovaries to lower estrogen levels). If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about the options that would lower your risk.

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Article Sources
  • National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer Prevention. Updated 10/22/15. http://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-prevention-pdq#section/_12
  • American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2017-2018. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/annual-cancer-facts-and-figures/2018/cancer-facts-and-figures-2018.pdf. Accessed September 15, 2018.

  • National Cancer Institute. PDQ Cancer Information Summaries (Internet). Breast Cancer Prevention (PDQ) Health Professional Version. Published online 12/16/15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65884/#CDR0000062779__29