Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About one in eight women will develop cancer during their lifetime. While researchers do not know why cancer occurs, they have identified several factors that increase a person’s risk for breast cancer.
- Being a woman – While men can also develop breast cancer, the disease is 100 times more common among women than men.
- Family history – “There has been much media coverage about the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, which are linked with breast cancer,” says Carlos Robles, MD, medical oncologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “But a very small percentage of breast cancer patients have one of those two genes. Family history is a much more important indicator of breast cancer risk.”
- Personal history of breast cancer – Any woman who has had breast cancer in one breast has a threefold to fourfold increased risk of developing a new cancer in another part of that breast or in the other breast.
- Aging – Two out of three invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 and older.
- Dense breast tissue – Women who have more glandular and fibrous tissue in their breasts and less fatty tissue are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.
- Obesity – Having more fat tissue after menopause raises the estrogen levels in your body, which can increase your risk for breast cancer.
- Pregnancy-related factors – Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher risk for breast cancer. “This risk factor is related to the balance between progesterone and estrogen in a woman’s body,” says Robles. “When a woman is pregnant, she does not have the peaks of estrogen production that are associated with having a menstrual cycle. This lowers breast cancer risk.”
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