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Breast Cancer Risk Factors

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 10 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Breast Cancer breast Cancer Risk

There is not yet a specific test that can confirm if an individual will absolutely develop breast cancer in her lifetime, but there are several known risk factors which can heighten the risk of developing this disease. Gender, age, family history, genetics and lifestyle can all be risk factors that may indicate a greater risk of developing breast cancer at some point.


Women develop breast cancer more than men, so females have a greater likelihood of developing the disease more than males. However, up to 300 men per year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United Kingdom so males do not absolutely escape the risk either.


Women who are pre-menopausal, that is in their 50s or even early 60s, are the start of the major age category diagnosed with breast cancer. However, women as young as in their 20s and as old as in their 70s can be diagnosed as well. Because women between the ages of 50 and 70 are the prime age group for breast cancer, women in this group who are registered with a GP are invited to have a mammogram every three years under the National Breast Screening Programme.

Family History

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has developed a set of guidelines that classify women according to their family history of breast cancer. They do this because it is known that approximately 10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary or have a familial link. NICE classifies women as having a higher risk of breast cancer than the general public if they have a mother or sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40, if they have at least two close relatives (mother, sister, daughter) from the same side of the family diagnosed with breast cancer at any time in their lives, if they have 3 close relatives from the same side of the family diagnosed with breast cancer at any time in their lives, if they have a father or brother diagnosed with breast cancer at any time in their lives, if they have a mother or sister diagnosed with breast cancer in both breasts before the age of 50 OR if they have at least two relatives from the same side of the family diagnosed with cancer - one with ovarian and one with breast cancer - (one of whom must be a mother, sister or daughter) at any time in their lives.


When breast cancer seems to be familial there is usually one of four main breast cancer genes present. These genes include BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53 and PTEN. However, testing for these genes can only confirm that they are present, not that they absolutely indicate that breast cancer will develop. Those who should be tested for these genes are women who have a strong family history of breast cancer. In the UK, NICE guidelines stipulate that women with a high risk of developing breast cancer should be tested but there may be private options for women who do not meet these criteria but would like the tests carried out anyway.


There are many lifestyle factors that seem to be related to the development of breast cancer. Not having children, or having children later in life (after the age of 30), long term hormone therapy use, not breast feeding children, drinking alcohol, maintaining an unhealthy weight and living a sedentary lifestyle may all contribute to a greater likelihood of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer risk factors are just that, factors that may increase the risk of developing the disease. However, having one or more risk factors does not necessarily indicate that the disease will develop. Women who are interested in learning more about how breast cancer risk factors pertain to their own lives should discuss the subject with their doctors.

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