What affects your risk of getting breast cancer?
The causes of breast cancer are not fully known. However, researchers have identified a number of factors that increase (or decrease) the chances of getting breast cancer. These are called risk factors. Breast cancer is complex and likely caused by a combination of risk factors. Some factors you may be able to control (like exercise). Yet, some are out of your control (like age). Some are still unknown. Since you can only control some risk factors, you cannot avoid some amount of risk. For example, the two most common risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older.
Most risk factors that you have some control over only have a small effect on risk. This means there is no one behavior that will prevent breast cancer. But, it also means there’s no one factor that will cause it.
Talk to your health care provider about your personal risk.
Some factors linked to a higher risk of breast cancer:
- being a woman
- getting older (breast cancer risk increases with age)
- an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 breast cancer genes
- a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
- high breast density on a mammogram
- hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
- a personal history of breast cancer (including ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
- exposure to large amounts of radiation at a young age
- never having children or having a first child after age 35
- younger age at first period (before age 12)
- older age at menopause (age 55 or older)
- alcohol use
- Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
- current or recent use of birth control pills
- current or recent use (for more than 5 years) of menopausal hormone therapy (postmenopausal hormone use) containing estrogen plus progestin
- being overweight or weight gain as an adult (postmenopausal breast cancer)
- not breastfeeding
- lack of exercise
Some factors linked to a lower risk of breast cancer:
- achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- getting regular exercise
- limiting alcohol
- avoiding menopausal hormones containing estrogen plus progestin
- breastfeeding, if you can
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