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Home What is Breast Cancer Risk Factors Am I considered to be at high risk for breast cancer?

Am I considered to be at high risk for breast cancer?

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The risk for the average woman born in the United States of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during her lifetime is currently estimated to be about 13%, or 1 in 8. As one gets older, the risk increases; broken down into age groups, the average risk for a woman is:

  • 0.43%, or 1 in 233, at 30-39 years old
  • 1.44%, or 1 in 69, at 40-49 years old
  • 2.63%, or 1 in 38, at 50-59 years old
  • 3.65%, or 1 in 27, at 60-69 years old

Multiple factors play a role in determining an individual person's risk of developing breast cancer. As a result a person's risk may be either higher or lower than the average risk. Factors that can increase risk of breast cancer include:

  • female sex
  • older age (high risk at over 70 years old)
  • personal history of breast abnormalities (atypical hyperplasia) and/or cancer, and of breast biopsies
  • family medical history of breast or ovarian cancer, particularly the number of first-degree relatives (mother, sisters, daughters) with breast cancer
  • having started menstruation at a young age (younger than 12 years old), having gone through menopause at a late age (older than 55 years old)
  • first pregnancy later in life (after age 30), or never having had a pregnancy
  • Caucasian or African-American (Caucasian women are more likely to develop breast cancer, African-American women are more likely to die of the cancer)
  • radiation therapy to the chest as a child or young adult
  • history of having taken diethylstilbestrol (was given in the 1940s-60s, to try to decrease the chance of miscarriage) yourself, or your mother having taken DES
  • increased breast density on mammography

With so many factors to consider, it can be difficult and confusing to determine what your own risk of breast cancer may be. One resource available online is an interactive tool that uses an individual's information to calculate one's risk as a specific number.

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool

Also known as the Gail score or Gail model, this tool was developed by scientists at the National Cancer Institute and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project, using data from a large breast cancer screening study, as a way to estimate the risk of developing invasive breast cancer for a woman age 35 or older. Taking into account certain factors, among which are your age, your race, your personal medical history, and your family's history of breast cancer, it calculates your risk both over the next five years and until age 90. It also compares your risk to that of an average woman of the same age.

This tool does have some limitations, however. For instance, it may underestimate risk for African American women who have had breast biopsies; the model needs to be validated for Hispanic and Asian women, as less studies have been done looking at these groups; it does not take into account hereditary predispositions for breast cancer, such as carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation; it is not meant for use by women who have already had breast cancer, lobular carcinoma in situ, or ductal carcinoma in situ; it is not meant for use by women who have undergone breast radiation to treat Hodgkin lymphoma; and is not meant for women who live in or recently moved from regions with low breast cancer risk, such as rural China or Japan. Above all, it is important to keep in mind that although the model is updated periodically after evaluation of additional data, it only provides an approximate prediction, and it will not tell you whether you will or will not get breast cancer.

The calculator is available on the National Cancer Institute’s website at www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/.

As the tool was designed to be used by health professionals, it is strongly recommended that you discuss with your doctor your results and what they mean for you. If your risk is higher than the average woman's risk, your doctor may advise that you begin screening for breast cancer earlier, and may have recommendations for decreasing your risk.

Probability of breast cancer in American women. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Detection/probability-breast-cancer

Breast cancer risk factors. www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/risk/factors.jsp

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, National Cancer Institute. www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/

Risk prediction for breast cancer screening. www.uptodate.com/