Breast Cancer Awareness: Risk for Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness: Risk for Breast Cancer

Every October, individuals and entities across the nation participate in an annual campaign to increase awareness of breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in women and a leading cause of cancer death.  The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and that around 40,000 will die from this disease. This year, learn how you can reduce your risk for breast cancer by eating healthy and living a physically active lifestyle.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Cannot Change

You cannot completely eliminate all risk factors for developing breast cancer. You cannot change your personal genetics, family history, race, ethnicity, or age.


Certain genetic mutations increase your risk for breast cancer. Numerous genes are now known to affect breast cancer risk. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most common. Around one-half of women with a harmful mutation to either BRCA1 or BRCA2 will develop breast cancer. Women with harmful mutations to both genes are even more likely to develop breast cancer.

While BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most commonly discussed breast cancer-related genes, there are currently more than 40 genes that are associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.

Family History

If a woman has a first-degree relative, like a mother or sister, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, her risk is increased. If multiple first-degree relatives have breast cancer, then risk is even higher.

Race and Ethnicity

Members of certain ethnic groups are at higher risk for breast cancer. White and black women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than Hispanic and Asian women. Women of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage have a much higher risk than the general population because BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are more prevalent in this group.


Your risk for breast cancer increases with age. Around two-thirds of all invasive breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 55 and older.

Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Can Change?

There are lifestyle risks that are controllable. Changing certain behaviors can help to reduce risk. Risk factors that you can attempt to control are weight, activity level, and use of tobacco and alcohol.


The direct relationship between weight, as well as diet, and breast cancer is not fully understood. Up to 20 percent of cancer-related deaths are linked to excess body weight, according to the American Cancer Society. Regular exercise and a nutritious diet, which includes a generous amount of fruits and vegetables, will help you to maintain a healthy weight and prevent breast cancer.

Physical Activity

A growing body of research suggests that regular physical activity reduces the risk for breast cancer. It also reduces your risk for other cancers and many other health conditions. One study showed 18 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer in women who walked briskly for just 2.5 hours per week. Walking briskly for 10 hours per week reduced the risk even further.

Alcohol Use

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol increases the risk for breast cancer. Women who drink 2 to 5 alcoholic drinks per day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t drink at all.

By understanding personal risk for breast cancer, a woman can make healthy lifestyle choices and health care decisions to reduce their risk of breast cancer. It is important to note that the above list does not describe all risk factors for breast cancer. Consult with a physician before making drastic lifestyle changes. Many health insurers pay for breast cancer risk assessment services offered by health care organizations across the country.

To learn more about breast cancer risk factors and breast cancer prevention, please contact us.  

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