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    Breast Cancer Risk Factors & Prevention

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    Risk Factors  |  Prevention

    Risk Factors

    Age is the strongest risk factor for breast cancer. As you grow older, you are at increased risk for developing this disease. In a given age group, however, the risk for breast cancer is not the same among all women. Research has shown that certain risk factors can raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

    • Dense breast tissue. Women with a high percentage of dense breast tissue (related to amount of glandular and connective tissue) have a higher risk of breast cancer. This tissue can make it more difficult to detect an abnormality on a mammogram.
    • Family history. If your mother, sister and/or daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer, especially before age 50, you are at an increased risk for the disease.
    • Genetic alterations. Inherited changes in certain genes (including BRCA and PTEN) increase the risk of breast cancer. Women who are of Ashkenazi descent, an eastern European Jewish heritage, have an increased risk of having a BRCA mutation.
    • Radiation therapy. Women who have undergone radiation therapy to the chest before age 30 have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. This includes women treated for Hodgkin lymphoma.
    • First period before age 12. Having your first menstrual period before age 12 is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
    • Starting menopause at age 55 or later. Women who went through menopause after age 55 have a higher risk of breast cancer.
    • Age at first live birth. Women who had their first full-term pregnancy after age 30 or who never had a full-term pregnancy are at increased risk of breast cancer.
    • Menopausal hormonal therapy. Long term hormone replacement therapy can increase your risk for breast cancer.
    • Body weight. The chance of getting breast cancer is higher for postmenopausal women who are overweight or obese.
    • Alcohol. Drinking alcohol frequently may increase a woman's risk of breast cancer
    Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will develop breast cancer. Most women who have one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while many women who have no apparent risk factors (other than being a woman and growing older) may get the disease. Even when a woman with risk factors develops breast cancer, it is hard to know just how much her risk factors might have contributed.

    Source: National Cancer Institute. “Breast Cancer Risk in American Women.” Accessed 12/2014.

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    Risk factors for breast cancer fall into one of two categories: modifiable or non-modifiable. Factors you can't modify include your age, race, or family history. Modifiable risk factors are lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your risk of getting breast cancer.

    • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer, especially after menopause.
    • Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer.
    • Limit alcohol. Try to limit your alcohol consumption.
    • Don't smoke. Evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly for premenopausal women. Stopping smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your overall health.
    • Breastfeed. There may be a link between breastfeeding and breast cancer prevention. The longer you breastfeed, the greater the protective effect.
    • Limit hormone therapy. Ask your doctor about managing the symptoms of menopause with exercise, dietary changes or other non-hormonal therapies. Or if you must use hormone therapy, do it on a temporary basis at the lowest dose possible.
    1. DHHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” Accessed 12/2014.
    2. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer? Accessed 12/2014.

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