Top 10 risk factors for breast cancer

The causes of breast cancer are mostly unknown. However, a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors may be responsible for the development of breast cancer. There are some factors that may increase the risk of breast cancer including the following ones.


Age is a progressive risk factor – which means with advancing age the risk increases. As a woman gets older the risk increases. In young women, the risk is relatively less. By the time a woman reaches 40 to 50 years the risk increases up to 2 to 3 percent – and after age 55 to 60 years the risk increases up to 4 to 5%.

Family History

Breast and ovarian cancer risk increase manifolds with a strong family history. A woman whose close relative has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer is at increased risk. The risk further increases if several relatives are affected or when her first-degree relative had developed breast cancer before they turned 50.

Personal History of Benign Lumps or Breast Cancer

A woman with a personal history of benign or malignant breast lumps is at increased risk of developing breast cancer. Recurring breast cancers are aggressive – and could develop in the same or the other breast. Therefore, a personal history of breast cancer increases the risk.


The production of the estrogen hormone in the ovaries stops after menopause. Fat tissues thus become the primary source of estrogen in women after menopause. Excess fat tissue means high levels of estrogen hormone and thus increased risk of breast cancer.

Physical Inactivity or Sedentary Lifestyle

Inactive life or sedentary lifestyle is responsible for several diseases including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol. According to many research and scientific studies women who actively take care of their health through diet, physical activities and a healthy lifestyle are less likely to get breast cancer compared to those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. A 30 to 40 minutes of regular physical activities or exercise 4 to 5 days in a week can significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.

 Smoking and Alcohol

Smoking and alcohol consumption increases both lung and breast cancer risk in women. The risk increases even with passive or second-hand smoke.

Excessive drinking is linked to breast cancer risk in women. The more is the amount of alcohol consumed, the higher is the risk of developing breast cancer.

Disruption in the functions of the liver due to excess alcohol intake is linked to altered estrogen levels in the blood – which in turn increases breast cancer risk.

Early Menstruation or Puberty

Menarcheal age is a well-established breast cancer risk factor. A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer increases if her periods start early (early menarche). The reason, Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) – is a stimulant associated with breast density and breast cancer risk. The second factor is the higher ratio of the hormone estrogen to hormone androstenedione. Greater exposure to hormone estrogen is another risk factor for breast cancer. The risk decreases by up to 5% for every year delay in periods.

Late Menopause

Late menopause slightly increases the risk of breast cancer in women due to longer lifetime exposure to her own estrogen levels.

Late Pregnancy

First pregnancy after 30 to 35 years of age slightly increases breast cancer risk in women. A woman who had her first full-term pregnancy after age 30 years is at risk.

Women who do not breastfeed their babies

Many women prefer not to breastfeed their babies – owing to certain myths – could be at slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer. To lower their risk, they should breastfeed their babies for up to 18 months to two years.

Bottom Line

Irrespective of several risk factors, the causes of breast cancer are mostly unknown – however, breast cancer risk can be minimized by regular breast self-examination clinical breast examination and breast cancer screening. Women who are genetically predisposed should start genetic screening early. Early detection of breast cancer ensures the highest cure rates. Simple tests like mammogram done at appropriate times can detect breast cancers early for a potential cure.

Top 10 risk factors for breast cancer