What increases my risk of breast cancer?

Older woman talking to her doctor

These risk factors increase your chance of developing breast cancer: 

  • Being a woman. Men can get breast cancer, but it is very rare. Read more about breast cancer in men.
  • Getting older. Most women who get breast cancer are over the age of 50. (3 in every 4 breast cancer patients are over 50 years old). Younger women can get breast cancer too.
  • Having had breast cancer before. Women who have had breast cancer have an increased risk of getting breast cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.
  • Previous breast disease. Your risk is increased if you were previously diagnosed with atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH) or lobular neoplasia. 
  • Previous radiotherapy. If you were treated with radiation to your chest area in the past, you risk of breast cancer is higher. 
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Women on HRT are at an increased risk of breast cancer. Your risk decreases gradually after you stop taking it.
  • A strong family history of breast cancer. Women with a strong family history of breast cancer have a higher risk of getting the disease. Experts believe that fewer than 1 in every 10 breast cancer cases are caused by genetic changes that are passed on in families. A strong family history includes:
     
    • Breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer in several close members of the same family.
    • Breast cancer in a close relative when under the age of 50.
    • A male relative diagnosed with breast cancer at any age.

      We have more information on cancer and genes.

  • Being overweight after the menopause. Fat cells in your body can increase the amount of hormones you have. High levels of certain hormones increase your cancer risk.
  • Drinking alcohol. Even 1 standard drink a day increases the risk, and the more you drink the more the risk increases. 
  • Being inactive. Lack of activity slightly increases your risk of breast cancer.
  • The Pill. The contraceptive pill causes a small increase in risk. This risk gradually returns to normal after you stop taking it.
  • Starting periods at an early age or having a late menopause. Women who have their first period before the age of 12 or who have the menopause after the age of 55 have a slightly increased risk.
  • Having no children. Women who have no children or who have their first child later in life have a slightly increased risk.

Remember: Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will definitely get cancer. Sometimes people with no risk factors get the disease. If you’re worried, talk to your GP or talk to one of our cancer nurses. Call the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre. 

Reducing your risk of breast cancer

The most important things you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer are to:

  • Check your breasts every month to spot any abnormal changes.
  • Take part in the BreastCheck screening programme. It’s free every 2 years for women aged 50 to 69.
  • Talk to your GP about earlier screening if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Keep a healthy weight for your height.
  • Stay active: Women who are physically active have a lower risk of breast cancer than less active women. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 days a week.
  • Limit alcohol: The more you cut down, the more you can reduce your risk. Limit your breast cancer risk by drinking no more than one standard drink a day.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Breastfeed your baby: The longer a woman breastfeeds her baby, the more she reduces her breast cancer risk. It’s best to breastfeed your baby for at least the first six months, if possible.

Read more about reducing your risk of cancer.

For more information

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