Are You At Risk?

When doctors talk about risk factors, they're describing situations that increase the likelihood that someone with those situations will develop a particular medical condition. For example, a family history of a particular disease may increase your chances of developing the disease. However, it's important to remember that having a particular risk factor doesn't mean you will definitely develop the corresponding medical condition. It does suggest that you pay close attention to your health and any changes.

Age and Gender
Previous cancer or breast disease
Certain fibrocystic changes
Family history
Environmental factors

While a great deal of attention about breast cancer is focused on the risk factors described here, you should know that between 85 and 90 percent of women who develop breast cancer do not have any risk factors. That's why it is so important for every woman to perform monthly breast self-exams and receive regular mammograms and physical exams.

Age and gender
Breast cancer risk increases with age, and women are much more likely to get breast disease than men (although men can suffer from cancers in this area).

Previous cancer or breast disease
A previous diagnosis of breast cancer increases the likelihood of future cancer. In addition, if you've been diagnosed with ductal or lobular cancer that is "in situ," you may be more likely to develop invasive cancer. Finally, woman who have or have had ovarian, colon or endometrial cancer may have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

Certain fibrocystic changes
While most fibrocystic changes (a non-cancerous condition that causes lumps or painful cysts) don't increase the risk of breast cancer, changes that involve cellular atypia may do so.

Family history
Having a relative who had breast cancer doesn't automatically increase your risk. However, if two or more family members have had it, or if a close relative had cancer under age 40 or in both breasts, your risk may be somewhat higher. In addition, having family members who have or have had ovarian, colon or endometrial cancer may also increase the risk. Remember to consider both your mother and father's families when reviewing your family history.

Environmental factors
Because most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease, researchers believe that most cancers are strongly influenced by environmental factors. Some evidence suggests that high-fat, low-fiber diets may increase cancer risk, as may extensive radiation exposure at an early age.