Breast Cancer Risk Factors

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Every woman is at risk for developing breast cancer. An American woman has a 12.5% chance of developing breast cancer during her lifetime. Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to determine who will develop the disease.

There are a number of risk factors that have been identified as increasing a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer, including, but not limited to:

  • Age
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Early menarche and/or late menopause
  • No children or first pregnancy after age 30
  • Personal history of breast abnormalities or benign breast disease
  • Genetic factors
  • Environmental factors
  • High-fat diet
  • Race

"The truth is, however, in more than 70 percent of breast cancer cases, women do not have any identifiable risk factors other than age." (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center)


It has long been held that pre-menopausal women do not develop breast cancer in significant numbers. Yet, younger women with breast cancer typically have a more unfavorable outcome and more advanced disease than older women. (Lee et al, 2002; Marcus et al, National Cancer Institute, 1994)

The American Cancer Society provides the latest breast cancer statistics on this group of women:

  • 23% of new cases and 16% of breast cancer deaths between 1994 and 1998 occurred in women younger than 50 years old
  • In the US, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths of women 20-59 years of age
  • Over 11,000 women age 40 and under will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year

 Even more disturbing, a recent study indicated that reproductive factors influence the biological behavior of breast cancer in young women. According to the researchers, women who have delivered a child within two years before diagnosis of breast cancer are at increased risk of having tumors with especially adverse prognosis profiles and have a poorer survival rate than women who have not had children or whose last birth was not within five years of the diagnosis. (Daling et al, 2002)

"Young women with breast cancer have a more unfavorable outcome and advanced disease than older women." (Lee, 2002)


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