Are You at Risk of Breast Cancer?

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One in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.

Knowing your breast cancer risk and doing regular screening are your best bets for detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages and helping to prevent the disease.

Although certain risk factors may increase your chances of getting breast cancer, they do not necessarily cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop breast cancer. Others--more than 70% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer--have no known risk factors for the disease.

Benign Breast Disease:
What It Means for Me

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Breast Cancer Risk Factors

  • Increasing age--Most breast cancers occur in women over 50.

  • Personal history of breast cancer or benign (non-cancerous) breast disease such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)

  • Family history of breast cancer--Having one or more first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter) or second-degree relatives (grandmother, aunt) with breast cancer. About 20% of women with breast cancer have a family history.

  • Inherited gene mutations to the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes--Blood tests are available to check for these gene mutations, but are not recommended for everyone and only after a person has received appropriate genetic counseling.

  • History of ovarian cancer

  • Reproductive and menstrual history

    • Menstruating at an early age (before age 12)
    • Late onset of menopause (after age 55)
    • Having your first pregnancy after age 30 or never having given birth
    • Taking hormones (Risk is associated with combined estrogen and progesterone use; not estrogen alone)

  • Previous radiation treatment to the breast/chest

  • Breast density--Breast tissue that is dense (not fatty) on a mammogram

  • Lifestyle factors such as obesity, lack of exercise and alcohol use (drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day)

  • Race--Although white women are more likely to develop breast cancer, black women are more likely to die from it. The reasons are unclear and probably involve both socioeconomic and biologic factors.

Genetic Risk and Counseling

About 5-10% of breast cancers are due to genetic factors that are passed on from one generation to the next. Two genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, have been linked to hereditary breast cancer. When someone inherits an altered form of one of these genes (called a mutation), that person has an increased risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations can be inherited from the mother's side of the family or from the father's side. Men inheriting BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations also have an increased risk of breast cancer, although breast cancer in men is much less common. These men also may have an increased risk for prostate cancer.

Family Risk Assessment Program

Individuals with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer should consider counseling about their genetic risk. Fox Chase Cancer Center offers these services through the Margaret Dyson Family Risk Assessment Program.

The first of its kind in the region, the program offers screening expertise, information, support and counseling about genetic testing and prevention options. The program is for individuals with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer and women who have had breast cancer or a biopsy showing benign breast disease such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia. Call 1-877-627-9684 for more information.

For more information about breast cancer treatment and prevention at Fox Chase Cancer Center or to make an appointment, call 1-888-FOX CHASE (1-888-369-2427). The breast cancer scheduling department can be reached at 215-728-3001.