Breast Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention

1016_Breast Cancer_web imageEvery two minutes, a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer. What's more, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. The numbers about breast cancer-older women, younger women, men, diagnoses, survivors, deaths-tell a vivid story about breast cancer and its impact. The following facts about risks, and tips for prevention, offer more details behind the numbers.

Five Facts about Breast Cancer Risks

  • Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women. In fact, more than 230 thousand new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed every year in the United States. Older women aren't the only ones at risk.  
  • Your personal and family history can present breast cancer risks. For your personal history, consider any noncancerous breast diseases as well. When looking at your family history, remember to look at both your mom's and dad's side of the family. Look for a history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • Breastfeeding your babies can help reduce your risk. If you have children or plan on having children, you can reduce your risk for breast cancer by having children before the age of 35. Also, breastfeeding can help reduce your risk of breast cancer.
  • Your menstrual cycle and hormones contribute to your risk level. If you started your period before age 12, or if you start menopause after age 55, you may be at greater risk for breast cancer. Some types of hormone replace therapy (HRT) also pose more of a risk because they can cause "dense breasts." This makes it difficult for mammograms to find cancer.
  • Though rare, men can get breast cancer, too. For men, most breast cancers happen between the ages of 60 and 70. Because men aren't really looking for it-and because it's more difficult to catch for men-most men are diagnosed later than women. Breast cancer risk factors for men include: breast cancer in a close female relative, radiation exposure of the chest, drug or hormone treatments, severe liver disease, and other conditions. Symptoms are similar to those that women experience.

Five Ways to Help Prevent Breast Cancer

  • Know the signs and symptoms. Knowing what to look for gives you a baseline and can help indicate when it's time to get help from your doctor. Signs and symptoms can include a lump in or near the breast or underarm, changes in the shape or texture of the breast or nipple, or bloody discharge from the nipple.
  • Do self-exams to monitor for signs of breast cancer. A self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s to watch for early signs of breast cancer. While this is one method for detecting lumps and abnormalities, talk with your doctor about the benefits and limitations of self-exams.
  • Get your recommended screenings. It is recommended that women ages 50 to 74 years old receive a mammogram every two years. Women ages 40 to 49 should talk with their doctor about when they should have their first screening.
  • Live healthfully. As with many other health risks, you can reduce your risk of breast cancer by being physically active, eating healthfully, quitting tobacco, and reducing your alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid or reduce your exposure to radiation and chemicals that can cause cancer, known as carcinogens. Some medical tests expose you to radiation in small, limited amounts, such as x-rays, CT scans, and others. The harm from these tests is small. To reduce your exposure, get these tests done only if it's necessary for diagnostic purposes.

Sources: WebMD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC), National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society,, and American Institute for Cancer Research

Free Online Tools and Resources

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Visit CaféWell to:

  • Complete the health assessment to identify your potential health risks.
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Last updated 2/5/2016