Risk & Complications of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer risk factors include:

  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men.
  • Age: As you get older, your chances of getting breast cancer increase.
  • Genetics: Nearly ten percent of all breast cancer cases are linked to heredity or genetic factors (involving genetic mutations that lead to abnormal cell growth). If you have close relatives (especially a mother or sister) who have had breast cancer, you are more likely to get the disease as well.  
  • History of Breast Cancer: If you have cancer in one breast, the risk of developing cancer in the other breast is four times higher.
  • Race and Ethnicity: White women are more prone to developing breast cancer than African-America women. Hispanic, Native American, and Asian women have a relatively low risk of developing this disease.
  • Dense Breast Tissue: If you have breast tissue that is more dense than normal (this is normally detected on a mammogram), you have a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Benign Breast Conditions: Benign breast conditions such as cysts, fat necrosis, papilloma, benign phyllodes tumor, and an overgrowth of breast tissue are linked with the increased risk of breast cancer.
  • In Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS): Women with this condition are seven to ten times more likely to develop the disease. If you suffer from LCIS, it is recommended that you have regular mammograms for early detection of signs of breast cancer.
  • Menstrual Periods: If you started menstruating earlier or went through a late menopause, there is a higher risk of breast cancer due to the longer exposure to estrogen and progesterone hormones and their effects on the body.
  • Previous Chest Radiation: Previous radiation therapy to treat other cancers can significantly increase the risk of breast cancer. If radiation was administered on the chest prior to the breasts developing (before puberty), the risks are even higher.
  • Diethylstilbestrol Exposure: Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a drug given to women in their 40s through to their 60s to prevent a miscarriage. A woman who has taken this drug or who have mothers who have taken the drug are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Having Children: Having children after 30 or not having children at all can increase your risk of breast cancer. Similarly, having many pregnancies before the age of 30 actually reduces the risk of cancer.
  • Oral Contraceptive Use: Using birth control pills increases the risk of cancer. The longer you stay off oral contraceptive pills, the better the chances of the risk going back to normal.
  • Hormone Therapy after Menopause: Hormone therapy used to treat the symptoms of menopause can increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Breast-feeding: This can lower the risk of breast cancer especially if it is done consistently for one and a half to two years.
  • Alcohol: There is a definite link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption. The more alcohol consumed on a daily basis, the greater the risk of breast cancer developing.
  • Being Overweight or Obese: Obesity increases the chances of developing breast cancer especially after menopause. Studies indicate that this is probably because of the associated increase in estrogen levels.
  • Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle is directly linked with obesity and increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Chemicals and Toxins in the Environment: A lot of research is being conducted on the effects of the environment on breast cancer risk. Studies indicate that certain pesticides and chemicals may be linked to breast cancer but as of now more conclusive evidence is still required.

Frequently asked questions

Article (BJO:BJO1021)

  1. Carmichael, A.; Review article: Obesity as a risk factor for development and poor prognosis of breast cancer BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006, 113, 1160-1166
  2. Laure Dossus, Rudolf Kaaks, Nutrition, metabolic factors and cancer risk, Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 22, Issue 4, August 2008, Pages 551-571, ISSN 1521-690X, 10.1016/j.beem.2008.08.003.
  3. M.M.A. Tilanus-Linthorst, C.C.M. Bartels, A.I.M. Obdeijn, M. Oudkerk, Earlier detection of breast cancer by surveillance of women at familial risk, European Journal of Cancer, Volume 36, Issue 4, March 2000, Pages 514-519, ISSN 0959-8049, 10.1016/S0959-8049(99)00337-8.
  4. Victor V. Levenson, Biomarkers for early detection of breast cancer: What, when, and where?, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects, Volume 1770, Issue 6, June 2007, Pages 847-856, ISSN 0304-4165, 10.1016/j.bbagen.2007.01.017.