Eighty years ago, in 1940, the risk of a woman developing breast cancer was 5% or one in 20. Seventy-five years later, in 2015 (the last year for which we have statistics), the risk has risen to just over 12% or one in every eight women. Since early detection is the number one method of prevention, understanding the risk you face is beneficial in assisting early detection.
Dictionary.com defines risk as exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous possibility, and many things may increase your risk. It is important to remember that having a cancer risk factor, or even several of them, does not mean that a person will get cancer. But to ignore any risk factor, that you may have would be foolish. Risk factors can be categorized into three areas: minor, moderate, and significant. We will look at them in ascending order of significance.
Minor risk factors:
- History of breast cancer in second or third-level relatives such as aunts, grandmothers, or cousins.
- Biopsies that show a benign tumor from glandular tissue, abnormal multiplication of cells, benign nodular breast lesion which occurs primarily in young women, a benign tumor of the skin or mucous membrane.
- Having your first child after age 35 or never having children puts you at higher risk.
- Prolonged exposure to your estrogen, like starting to menstruate before age 12, or not starting menopause until after the age of 55, or never having had a pregnancy.
- Being overweight with excess caloric and fat intake.
- If you have been exposed to excessive radiation like treatment for cancers such as lymphoma, your risk increases.
- If you have a history of other cancers in your family, your risk for breast cancer increases
- The use of alcohol may cause a 1.5 times increase in cancer risk.
- Race. Caucasian women are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American women.
- Long-term use of combined estrogen and progesterone, like that used in Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Moderate risk factors:
- About 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.
- Having a mother, sister, or daughter who has breast cancer -Having one first-level relative with breast cancer doubles your risk and having two or more first-level relatives with breast cancer triples your risk.
- Carriers of alterations in either of two familial breast cancer genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2 – Several other types of abnormal genes increase the risk of breast cancer, as well.
- A breast biopsy resulting in a diagnosis of atypical hyperplasia (lobular or ductal) or lobular carcinoma in situ increases a woman’s breast cancer risk by four to five times.
Significant risk factors:
- A woman with a history of cancer in one breast, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or invasive breast cancer, is three to four times likelier to develop new breast cancer, unrelated to the first one, in either the other breast or in another part of the same breast.
- Your risk for breast cancer increases as you age. About 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are 45 years or older, and about 43% are 65 years or older. In women ages 40 to 50, there is a one in 68 risk of developing breast cancer. From ages 50 to 60, that risk increases to one in 42. In the 60 to 70 age group, the risk is one in 28. In women ages 70 and older, one in 26.
As you can see, the risk factors are varied and numerous. Knowing what they are and being prepared to check for early detection may protect you from this dreaded disease.