Breast Cancer & Your Risk
Your breast health journey starts with knowledge. Whether you’re concerned about your risk of breast cancer, have a history of breast cancer or other cancers in your family, or are curious about genetic testing, the first step is learning more about risk.
Everyone is at risk of breast cancer, and some of us are at a higher risk than others. Learning about your breast cancer risk can empower you to make important breast care decisions to take charge of your health.
Use these links to jump to the topics below.
Learn About Your Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Factors linked to an increased risk
Start by understanding which breast cancer risk factors have been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. Being born female is the most common risk factor for breast cancer. Although men can get breast cancer, it’s about 100 times more common in women. Age is another common risk factor. As you get older, you are more likely to get breast cancer.
Factors linked to a decreased risk
Some factors may even decrease the risk of breast cancer, such as breastfeeding and avoiding menopausal hormones. Being physically active, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol may also decrease your risk. Also, eating fruits and vegetables and not smoking are not only good for your overall health, but may also lower your risk of breast cancer.
Risk factors under study
Other breast cancer risk factors, such as anti-depressant use, fertility drugs, parabens and stress, are currently under study. Findings to date are not strong enough to say whether these factors are truly related to breast cancer; more research is needed.
Factors not linked to an increased risk
Factors not linked to an increased breast cancer risk at this time include having breast implants and consuming caffeine.
Explore risk factors
Our Breast Cancer Risk Factors Table lists factors linked – or not linked in some cases – to breast cancer. It also lists many factors under study. Factors are grouped based on the strength of evidence.
Use this tool to learn more
You can also learn more about your risk of breast cancer by using the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool.
Next Steps to Take Charge of Your Breast Health
Talk to your family
Talking to your family about your family health history can provide important information about your breast cancer risk factors. The Family Health History Tool makes it easy for you to gather, record and share your family’s health information. You can use this information to talk with your doctor.
Talk to your doctor
Talk with your doctor to discuss any concerns you have about your breast cancer risk and what to do next. You can ask questions like:
- How can I find out my risk of breast cancer? How accurate are the methods? How will this information help me?
- How do I find out if I have dense breasts? How does having dense breasts affect my risk of breast cancer? What breast cancer screening tests should I have?
- What’s the best way to manage my menopausal symptoms? Is menopausal hormone therapy a safe way to manage them? Are there other options I should consider?
- What breast cancer screening tests should I have? When should I start? How often should I get screened?
If you are at a higher risk of breast cancer…
If you’re at higher risk of breast cancer, talk with your doctor about a screening plan that’s best for you. You may need to be screened earlier and more often than other women.
Talk with your doctor about whether you should consider genetic counseling and testing. If genetic test results show you or a family member have an inherited gene mutation, you may have questions about risk-lowering options, such as:
- Should I take a risk-lowering drug (such as tamoxifen)? What are the benefits and risks for me?
- What about prophylactic mastectomy?
- Are there clinical trials enrolling people at high risk of breast cancer? If so, how can I learn more?
Susan G. Komen® Support Resources
Breast Care Helpline
Susan G. Komen Breast Self-Awareness Messages
1. Know your risk
- Talk with both sides of your family to learn about your family health history
- Talk with a health care provider about your risk of breast cancer
2. Get screened
- Talk with a health care provider about which screening tests are right for you if you’re at higher risk
- Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you’re at average risk
- Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40
- Sign up for your screening reminder at komen.org/reminder
3. Know what is normal for you and see a health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes (see images):
- Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away
4. Make healthy lifestyle choices
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Make exercise part of your routine
- Limit alcohol intake
- Limit menopausal hormone therapy (postmenopausal hormone use)
- Breastfeed, if you can