Several breast cancer risk factors are widely recognized within the medical community. While many of these factors, such as gender and age, cannot be controlled, others, such as weight, can be effectively managed through positive lifestyle choices. By making healthy decisions, a woman can empower herself and take proactive steps to ensure that her breast cancer risk is as low as possible.
While breast cancer can affect men, the majority of cases involve women. The level of risk has also been shown to increase with age, particularly in women over age 55. Other known breast cancer risk factors include:
- Family history – Women who have a first-degree female relative (sister, mother or daughter) who was diagnosed with breast cancer have a heightened risk, especially if the relative was diagnosed at a young age (pre-menopause).
- Personal history – A woman who was previously diagnosed with breast cancer is more likely to develop a new cancer in another part of the same breast or the other breast.
- Radiation to the chest – Women who have had radiation to the chest to treat another form of cancer, such as Hodgkin’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, have a higher-than-average risk.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding history – Women who haven’t had a full-term pregnancy and women who had their first child after age 30 have an increased risk.
- Menstrual history – Women who began menstruating before age 12 or went through menopause after age 55 have a higher risk.
There are several preventive measures a woman can take to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. For example, a sedentary lifestyle is included among the known breast cancer risk factors. Regular exercise performed at a moderate or intense level for four to seven hours a week is believed to lower the risk. What’s more, a nutritionally poor diet that is low in fruits and vegetables is thought to at least partially influence approximately 30 to 40 percent of all cancers, including breast cancer. Exercising and eating well can also help a woman maintain a healthy weight, which is important because overweight and obese women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, especially after menopause. Finally, tobacco use can increase the risk of developing cancer.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we offer an advanced Genetic Counseling and Testing Service to help women who have multiple risk factors better understand their risk for developing cancer, as well as their options for risk reduction, early detection and treatment. Through our comprehensive breast program, women can receive advice, treatment, support and multiple expert opinions in a single, convenient location, and we do not require referrals.