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Major Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

As with any disease there are certain risk factors associated with breast cancer.

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease such as cancer.
However, just because you have 1 or 2 of the risk factors does not mean you will necessarily get breast cancer. There are different types of risk factors. Some factors like a person’s age cannot be changed. Other risk factors are linked to the environment and some are linked to personal choices (e.g. smoking, diet).

For breast cancer the main risk factor for developing breast cancer is simply being a woman. This factor cannot be changed. It is important to point out that men can develop breast cancer but it is rare because men have less breast cells than women. Another risk factor you cannot change is your age. The risk of breast cancer increases as you get older - 78% of women with invasive breast cancer are age 50 or older when they are diagnosed. Genetics is also a risk factor. Women may inherit a mutated gene from a parent that makes them at an increased risk for breast cancer. Breast cancer is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease.

Other risk factors include: 1) having an abnormal breast biopsy, 2) previous chest radiation,
3) starting menstruation at an early age (before age 12), 4) women who have had no children or had their first child after age 30, 5) long-term use of postmenopausal hormone therapy,
6) obesity and high-fat diets.

Because some of these factors cannot be changed (e.g., age, gender) it is especially important for women to perform breast self examinations monthly, have a physician perform a clinical breast examination annually, and have a mammogram annually after the age of 40 years.
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