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What Is The Risk Of Getting Breast Cancer

The Importance Of Age And The Lifetime Risks For Breast Cancer

Understanding your risk for breast cancer key to getting treatment

In 1989, a womans lifetime risks for breast cancer was about 1 in 10. That risk increased to about 1 in 7 by 2003 and is currently 1 in 8 in the US over an 80-year lifespan.

Even though it may seem that breast cancer risk has increased in recent years, the actual risk of dying from breast cancer has decreased significantly.

As we can see from the graph above, the likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer increases as a woman ages.

The percentages on the graph can also be translated to the following risks for breast cancer listed below:-

  • Age 30: 1 in 227
  • At age 40: 1 in 68
  • Age 50: 1 in 42
  • Age 60: 1 in 28
  • At Age 70: 1 in 26

What jumps out at you from the above table is the exponential increase in probability between age 30 and 40 years.

A woman is around 3.5 times more likely to get breast cancer at age 40 than she was aged 30. In addition, between the ages of 40 and 50, there is another increase in probability.

Breast Cancer And Your Risk

For readers interested in the PDF version, the document is available for downloading or viewing:

This brochure identifies biological as well as lifestyle factors associated with breast cancer. It offers information and advice to help you better understand and address them. It also identifies common misconceptions about breast cancer and includes helpful tips and useful website addresses to help you stay informed.

It is intended for women who:

  • are 18 years of age or over and
  • do not have breast cancer or any breast problems. You should report any changes in your breasts or concern you might have about your breasts to your doctor.

What Factors Put You At High Risk For Breast Cancer

Doctors consider several factors to determine if youre at a high risk of breast cancer. All of these factors, except for pregnancy history and radiation exposure, are things you cannot change:

  • Family history: If youve had one or more close relatives, such as parents, siblings, or children with breast cancer, your risk increases.
  • Genetics: Having inherited gene mutations that are associated with family cancer syndromes, particularly those in BRCA1 or BRCA2, significantly boost your risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Age: The risk of breast cancer goes up as you get older.
  • Personal history: A personal history of certain breast conditions raises your breast cancer risk. These include:
  • Menstrual and pregnancy history: Starting your period at an early age, going through menopause later, or not having children are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Breast density: Having dense breasts on a mammogram raises your breast cancer risk.
  • Radiation exposure: If you received radiation therapy to your chest area between the ages of 10 and 30, your breast cancer risk is higher.
  • Remember that theres no standardized way to determine breast cancer risk. While breast cancer risk assessment tools are important in helping to estimate risk, they typically dont take all of the factors above into account.

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    Family History And Inherited Genes

    Some people have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than the general population because other members of their family have had particular cancers. This is called a family history of cancer.

    Having a mother, sister or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer increases the risk of breast cancer. This risk is higher when more close relatives have breast cancer, or if a relative developed breast cancer under the age of 50. But most women who have a close relative with breast cancer will never develop it.

    Some people have an increased risk of breast cancer because they have an inherited gene fault. We know about several gene faults that can increase breast cancer risk and there are tests for some of them. Having one of these faulty genes means that you are more likely to get breast cancer than someone who doesnt. But it is not a certainty.

    Two of these faulty genes are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These are not common. Only about 2 out of every hundred of breast cancers are related to a change in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

    Ionising radiation includes tests such as x-rays and CT scans and treatment such as radiotherapy.

    A Word Of Caution Regarding Home Genetic Tests For Breast Cancer

    Breast Cancer Awareness: Risk Factors, Screenings, Treatment Options ...

    The idea of a home genetic test for breast cancer is exciting to many people, as these tests might help them avoid the clinic while being their own advocate in their health. It’s important to thoroughly understand the limitations of these tests, however, if you choose to do one.

    For example, a popular at-home genetic test identifies three breast cancer genes that are more common among Ashkenazi women but are rare in other ethnic populations. While the company is transparent in admitting that the test only checks for 3 out of a potential 1000 BRCA mutations, not everyone reads the small print. The bottom line on this test is that for Ashkenazi Jewish woman, a positive test might let them know they should see their healthcare provider . For most women the test is relatively meaningless, and actually be harmful if they trusted the results and did not have formal testing.

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    Example Of The Impact Of A Relative Risk

    Using our example of the exercise study above, we can show how absolute risks affect the number of extra cases.

    Inactive women have a 25 percent higher risk of breast cancer than active women .

    Since older women are more likely to get breast cancer, a lack of exercise has a greater impact on breast cancer risk in older women than in younger women.

    First, lets look at the women in the study ages 70-74 years.

    The study finds 500 women per 100,000 who are inactive develop breast cancer in one year. This is the absolute risk for women with the risk factor, lack of exercise.

    The study also shows 400 women per 100,000 who are active develop breast cancer in one year. This is the absolute risk for women without the risk factor.

    The relative risk is 1.25 for women who are inactive compared to those who are active.

    Among women ages 70-74, being inactive led to 100 more cases of breast cancer per 100,000 women in one year .

    Now lets look at the women in the study ages 20-29.

    The study finds 5 women per 100,000 who were inactive developed breast cancer in one year. And, 4 women per 100,000 who were active got breast cancer.

    Here again, the relative risk is 1.25.

    However, in women ages 20-29, being inactive led to only 1 extra case of breast cancer per 100,000 women .

    So, the same relative risk of 1.25 led to many more extra cases of breast cancer in the older women than in the younger women .

    The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool

    The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool allows health professionals to estimate a woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer over the next 5 years and up to age 90 .

    The tool uses a womans personal medical and reproductive history and the history of breast cancer among her first-degree relatives to estimate absolute breast cancer riskher chance or probability of developing invasive breast cancer in a defined age interval.

    The tool has been validated for white women, black/African American women, Hispanic women and for Asian and Pacific Islander women in the United States. The tool may underestimate risk in black women with previous biopsies and Hispanic women born outside the United States. Because data on American Indian/Alaska Native women are limited, their risk estimates are partly based on data for white women and may be inaccurate. Further studies are needed to refine and validate these models.

    This tool cannot accurately estimate breast cancer risk for:

    • Women carrying a breast-cancer-producing mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2
    • Women with a previous history of invasive or in situ breast cancer

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    Understanding Your Risk Of Breast Cancer

    Several breast cancer risk assessment tools have been developed to help a woman estimate her chance of developing breast cancer. The best studied is the Gail model, which is available on the National Cancer Institutes website at After you enter some personal and family information, including race/ethnicity, the tool provides you with a 5-year and lifetime estimate of the risk of developing invasive breast cancer. Because it only asks for information about breast cancer in first-degree family members and does not include their ages at diagnosis, the tool works best at estimating risk in women without a strong inherited breast cancer risk. For some women, other ways of determining the risk of breast cancer may work better. For example, women with a strong family history of breast cancer risk should consider talking to a genetic counselor.

    It is important to talk with your doctor about how to estimate your personal risk of breast cancer and to discuss risk-reducing or prevention options .

    Risk Of Breast Cancer In Different Countries

    Signs of high risk breast cancer – Mayo Clinic

    The above information and statistics are based on American women. However, the risk of breast cancer is not the same around the world.

    In Canada, based on the Canadian Cancer Society 2010 data, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is around 1 in 9 or 11%. Furthermore, 1 in 30 will die from breast cancer.

    For women in the UK, the risk of breast cancer diagnosis in a lifetime, according to statistics from Cancer Research UK in 2012, is also 1 in 8.

    According to the Australian government data for 2017, a womans risk of breast cancer by the time they are 85, is 1 in 14.

    Because the incidence of breast cancer is lower in Asia compared to Western countries, the lifetime risk is currently lower too. For women of Malaysia, the risk of breast cancer is 1 in 28. For Chinese women, it is 1 in 16 and for Indian women, it is a 1 in 17 risk.

    These figures are, however, a little old based on statistics from 2003 to 2005. Indeed, incidence rates of breast cancer in parts of Asia have been rapidly rising, so expect the lifetime risk to be higher too.

    Interestingly, when a woman from a country with a low risk moves to a higher risk country her lifetime risk of breast cancer changes to that of the country she has moved to.

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    Expert Review And References

    • American Institute for Cancer Research / World Cancer Research Fund. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer. 2017: .
    • Lester J. Early stage breast cancer. Yarbro CH, Wujcki D, Holmes Gobel B, . Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning 2018: 47: 1279 – 1334.
    • Morrow M, Burstein HJ, and Harris JR. Malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2015: 79: 1117-1156.
    • National Cancer Institute. Genetics of Breast and Gynecologic Cancers Health Professional Version. 2016: .
    • National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer Screening Health Professional Version. 2017: .
    • National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer Prevention Health Professional Version. 2017: .
    • World Health Organization. Breast Cancer: Prevention and Control. Geneva: World Health Organization 2017.

    Having Dense Breast Tissue

    Breasts are made up of fatty tissue, fibrous tissue, and glandular tissue. Breasts appear denser on a mammogram when they have more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue. Women with dense breasts on mammogram have a higher risk of breast cancer than women with average breast density. Unfortunately, dense breast tissue can also make it harder to see cancers on mammograms.

    A number of factors can affect breast density, such as age, menopausal status, the use of certain drugs , pregnancy, and genetics.

    To learn more, see our information on breast density and mammograms.

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    Risks For Breast Cancer

    A risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer. It could be a behaviour, substance or condition. Most cancers are the result of many risk factors. But sometimes breast cancer develops in women who dont have any of the risk factors described below.

    Most breast cancers occur in women. The main reason women develop breast cancer is because their breast cells are exposed to the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones, especially estrogen, are linked with breast cancer and encourage the growth of some breast cancers.

    Breast cancer is more common in high-income, developed countries such as Canada, the United States and some European countries. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Breast cancer mostly occurs in women between 50 and 69 years of age.

    Being Overweight Or Obese

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    Women who are overweight after their menopause have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who are not overweight. Men also have an increased risk of breast cancer if they are overweight or obese. For both men and women, the risk increases as more weight is gained.

    Body mass index is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out whether you are a healthy weight. For most adults, an ideal is between 18.5 to 24.9. Being overweight means having a BMI of between 25 and 30. Obesity means being very overweight with a BMI of 30 or higher.

    Try to keep a healthy weight by being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

    Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women. The risk increases with each extra unit of alcohol per day. The number of units in a drink depends on the size of the drink, and the volume of alcohol.

    The latest UK government guidelines advise drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

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    Previous Breast Cancer Or Lump

    If you have previously had breast cancer or early non-invasive cancer cell changes in breast ducts, you have a higher risk of developing it again, either in your other breast or in the same breast.

    A benign breast lump does not mean you have breast cancer, but certain types of breast lumps may slightly increase your risk of developing cancer.

    Some benign changes in your breast tissue, such as cells growing abnormally in ducts , or abnormal cells inside your breast lobes , can make getting breast cancer more likely.

    What Is The Average American Womans Risk Of Being Diagnosed With Breast Cancer At Different Ages

    Many women are more interested in the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer at specific ages or over specific time periods than in the risk of being diagnosed at some point during their lifetime. Estimates by decade of life are also less affected by changes in incidence and mortality rates than longer-term estimates. The SEER report estimates the risk of developing breast cancer in 10-year age intervals . According to the current report, the risk that a woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer during the next 10 years, starting at the following ages, is as follows:

    • Age 30 . . . . . . 0.49%
    • Age 40 . . . . . . 1.55%
    • Age 50 . . . . . . 2.40%
    • Age 60 . . . . . . 3.54%
    • Age 70 . . . . . . 4.09%

    These risks are averages for the whole population. An individual womans breast cancer risk may be higher or lower depending on known factors, as well as on factors that are not yet fully understood. To calculate an individual womans estimated breast cancer risk, health professionals can use the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, which takes into account several known breast cancer risk factors.

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    Personal History Of Early Breast Cancer

    Women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer are at a higher risk of developing cancer in their other breast.

    There are also a number of non-invasive breast conditions that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. These include ductal carcinoma in situ , lobular carcinoma in situ and atypical ductal hyperplasia .

    Collecting Your Family History

    Lower your risk of breast cancer

    Your mother is an important figure in your cancer risk profile if she has or has had breast cancer. But, given the above, it’s also helpful to find out if cancer has affected other family members, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Don’t assume that you know this informationit’s worth specifically asking.

    For the purpose of building your own family history, you need to know:

    • What type of cancer a relative had
    • What age they were diagnosed
    • If they were cured, still living with cancer, or have died

    Other details, such as the grade, type, and stage of cancer are not as important for you to know. If you develop breast cancer, your medical team will identify your own grade, type, and stage rather than relying on your family history.

    If your mother or father are alive and able to share your family’s background with you, filling out the Cancer Family History Questionnaire that was created by the American Society of Clinical Oncology can help you keep track of the information. Once you gather your family history, it would be useful to keep that record for yourself and for other family members who share some of your family medical history.

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    How Has The Risk Of Being Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Changed In Recent Years

    For a woman born in the 1970s in the United States, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, based on breast cancer statistics from that time, was just under 10% .

    The last five annual SEER Cancer Statistics Review reports show the following estimates of lifetime risk of breast cancer, all very close to a lifetime risk of 1 in 8:

    • 12.83%, based on statistics for 2014 through 2016
    • 12.44%, based on statistics for 2013 through 2015
    • 12.41%, based on statistics for 2012 through 2014
    • 12.43%, based on statistics for 2011 through 2013
    • 12.32%, based on statistics for 2010 through 2012

    SEER statisticians expect some variability from year to year. Slight changes may be explained by a variety of factors, including minor changes in risk factor levels in the population, slight changes in breast cancer screening rates, or just random variability inherent in the data.

    Selected Reference
  • Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al. . SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 19752017, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, , based on November 2019 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2020.

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    • Reviewed:December 16, 2020

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