Risk Factors

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, most people want to understand what they can do to reduce their risk of developing the disease. Some risk factors associated with breast cancer cannot be changed, including age, menopausal status, and family history. However, there are certain steps you can take to decrease risk and/or improve early detection of the disease. It is important to discuss with a physician your individual risk factors to determine your screening needs.

Breast Cancer

  • Age: Most invasive breast cancers occur in women over age 55.
  • Family History: Women with an immediate family member (mother, sister, daughter) who has had breast cancer are nearly twice as likely to develop the disease. Close male relatives with the disease also raises risk. If you have a family history of cancer, genetic testing may help determine risk.
  • Diet and Exercise: Overweight and/or physically inactive women have a higher risk, especially after menopause.
  • Breast Conditions: Women with dense breast tissue and some benign breast conditions are at higher risk. 
  • Menstrual Cycles: Starting menstruation early (before age 12) or completing menopause late (after age 55) raises risk. 
  • Radiation: Radiation to the chest for another cancer have a higher risk of breast cancer. 
  • DES Exposure: Women who were exposed or had mothers exposed to diethylstilbestrol have a slightly higher risk.

Male Breast Cancer

  • Age: As men age, their risk of developing breast cancer increases, with most male breast cancers detected between 
60 and 70 years old.   
  • Radiation: Men who have been treated with radiation around the chest area have an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Family History: Men with close blood relatives who have breast cancer or who have a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene face an increased risk. Men with a strong family history of breast cancer should consider genetic testing to determine if they have the gene mutation, which could impact their risk both as a patient and carrier.  
  • Estrogen: Males with higher levels of estrogen due to diseases, such as the genetic disorder Klinefelter syndrome, have an increased risk. Also, men taking estrogen-related drugs for hormone therapy or sex changes may be at an increased risk. 
  • Alcohol: Men who are heavy drinkers face an increased risk because alcohol toxicity causes liver diseases, like cirrhosis, which can cause higher estrogen levels.
  • Obesity: Just like with women, obesity can contribute to breast cancer in men. Obese men have higher levels of estrogen because fat cells convert male hormones known as androgens to estrogen.
  • Testicular Conditions: Risk of developing male breast cancer can be increased by certain testicular conditions, such as an undescended testicle, testicle removal, and adult mumps.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

  • IBC tends to have a higher incidence in younger women.
  • African American women have a higher risk of the disease and are diagnosed at a younger age.
  • IBC tends to have a higher incidence among overweight and obese women.
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be diagnosed with IBC.
  • Men can be diagnosed with IBC, typically at an older age than women.