by EBSCO Medical Review Board

A risk factor is something that raises a person's chances of getting a disease or health problem. A person can have breast cancer with or without the risks below. The more risks a person has, the greater the chances are.

The most common risk factors, gender and age, cannot be changed. Breast cancer is far more common in women, but men can also have it. Breast cancer risk increases with age. Most women with breast cancer are over 50 years old, but it can be found at any age. Breast cancer is also more common in women who are White.

Other things that raise the risk for breast cancer are:

Family History

Having a family history of breast cancer raises the risk. The risk is highest for those with a parent, sister, or child with breast cancer.


Genes are passed from parents to their children. Changes in certain genes can raise the risk of breast cancer. Some of these changes allow cancer to start and grow.

The 2 most common come from the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. They are linked to the largest increase in lifetime risk. Women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a higher risk of:

  • Breast cancer at an earlier age
  • Breast cancer in both breasts
  • Ovarian cancer

There are other genes linked to breast cancer. However, the BRCA genes are the most common cause of family-related breast cancer.

Health Conditions

Current or past health issues are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. These are:

  • Breast cancer or other problems with the breasts
  • Breasts with dense tissue
  • Radiation therapy to the breast before the age 30 years
  • Getting pregnant after the age of 30 years
  • Not getting pregnant at all
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Excess weight, mainly after menopause
  • Higher exposure to estrogen, which includes:
    • First monthly period before age 13 years
    • Menopause after age 51 years
    • Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—mainly after menopause
    • Transgender women receiving hormone treatments
  • Prior biopsy showing lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)—or a star-shaped mass in the breast

Lifestyle Factors

Some habits can make the risk of breast cancer higher such as:

  • 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Use of birth control pills or shots
  • High intake of red meat


Breast and ovarian cancer and family history risk categories. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed March 25, 2022.

Breast cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Accessed March 25, 2022.

Breast cancer risk and prevention. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed March 11,25, 2022.

General information about breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed March 11, 2019.

Risk factors for breast cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed March 25, 2022.

7/10/2019 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance : de Blok CJM, Wiepjes CM, Nota NM, et al. Breast cancer risk in transgender people receiving hormone treatment: nationwide cohort study in the Netherlands. BMJ. 2019;365:l1652.

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