Risk factors

A risk factor is anything that increases the possibility of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors.

For example, we know that exposing skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for developing skin cancer and that smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx, bladder, kidney, and several other organs.

Having one or more risk factors does not mean that a person will definitely develop breast cancer, but it might increase their chance of developing breast cancer. Some people with one or more risk factors might never develop breast cancer.

Some risk factors like gender, age or race, cannot be changed. Some of the risk factors influence the likelihood of developing breast cancer more than other risk factors. The risk of developing breast cancer can change over time.

For more information on breast cancer risk factors from Cancer Australia, click here.

The main risk factors for developing breast cancer appear to be:
  • Being female (Men can get breast cancer but it is rare and accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancers)
  • Having a strong family history of breast cancer (However, the majority of people who are diagnosed have no known family history)
  • Inheriting a faulty gene (a gene mutation) that increases the risk of breast cancer, but only 10% of breast cancer is genetically linked. 
  • Having previously been diagnosed with Breast Cancer or DCIS
Other factors that seem to slightly increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer include:
  • Starting menstruation at a relatively early age (before 12 years)
  • Starting menopause at a relatively late age (after 55 years)
  • Not having children or having a first child after 30 years of age
  • Not breastfeeding – the more months spent breastfeeding, the lower the risk of developing breast cancer
  • Taking combined Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) after menopause, especially when taken for 5 years or longer
  • Gaining a lot of weight in adulthood, especially after menopause
  • Drinking alcohol (more than 2 standard drinks a day)
  • Previously having been diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia
  • Smoking in younger premenopausal women
  • Eating processed meats
Men with Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in men is rare. Less than 1% of all people diagnosed with breast cancer are men. Breast cancer in men is, however, on the rise with about 148  men being diagnosed in Australia each year. Cancer Australia 2019
Both men and women have breast tissue. As with women, we don’t know exactly why breast cancer develops in men. We do know that there are risk factors that may increase a man’s risk of developing breast cancer.
The most common risk factors for men are:

  • Getting older ( breast cancer in men occurs more commonly in those aged 50 and older)
  • Having a strong family history of female or male breast cancer

Less common risks are:

  • Having high oestrogen levels
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome

Some studies suggest that there may be a link between male breast cancer and some testicular disorders, and exposure to radiation.
For more information or support, contact Breast Cancer Care WA on 9324 3703 or email info@breastcancer.org.au .

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