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Risk Factors of Breast Cancer,Breast Cancer, Cancer, Breast Density, Risk of Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer – are you at high risk?

What puts a woman at high risk for breast cancer?

Interestingly, the answer to this question is not as simple as listing the possible reasons that may cause breast cancer. 

Breast cancer is a result of several risk factors, with a risk factor being a component that increases the likelihood of a person developing cancer. Now, someone who checks several boxes may be more likely to develop breast cancer but never gets it! Alternatively, someone who does not meet the risk factor criteria could still have the disease.

Women are often left with questions: does stress cause breast cancer? Or at what age is breast cancer diagnosedIn this post, we will address these concerns and give a low-down of the symptoms of breast cancer in females for easy detection and screening.

Immutable risk factors of Breast Cancer

There are certain cancer risk factors that you cannot change; these include:


While men and women can both develop breast cancer, women are more prone to it than men. 

So, what are the odds of a woman getting breast cancer? Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent types of cancer in the country and accounts for 14% of the total cancer cases registered in women. About 1 in 28 women is susceptible to this illness, and this number may vary depending on whether they reside in rural or urban India. 

On the other hand, studies indicate that the lifetime risk of having breast cancer is 1 in 1000 in men. 


You might be wondering, what is the risk of breast cancer by age?

Your cancer risk increases with age. Typically, breast cancers are diagnosed after a woman crosses 50.

So what is the average age a woman gets breast cancer? As per the 2001 registry created by ICMR, the early symptoms of breast cancer start registering around the age of 30 and peak around 50 to 64 years.

Genetic mutation or hereditary risk

Women who carry and inherit the mutation in the BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 genes are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Furthermore, they are also high-risk individuals for ovarian cancer.

Other rare mutations and hereditary conditions such as the Lynch syndrome, Cowden syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), etc. can increase your risk of developing cancer.

Interestingly, your race also plays a role in determining how likely you are to develop cancer. For instance, Caucasian women are more susceptible to the condition. However, African-American women can develop a more aggressive form of breast cancer.

Family medical history

In addition to genetic predisposition, family history of breast cancer can also put you at a greater risk of developing it.

For instance, you are at risk if one or more women in your family were diagnosed with breast cancer before or by the age of 45. Apart from breast cancer, family history of ovarian, pancreatic, and/or prostate cancer, especially on the same side of the family, can also make you vulnerable to this illness.

Reproductive history

Getting an early period increases the interaction of hormones, like oestrogen and progesterone, within the body. At the same time, longer reproductive periods also correspond to greater expose to hormone disruptors.

Thus, women who start menstruating as early as at the age of 12 years old and those who experience menopause after 55 years are more likely to develop breast cancer.

Breast density

Several women ask, does having large breasts increase the risk of cancer?

Rather than the size of your breast, the breast density plays a more crucial role in determining whether you are high risk or otherwise. Dense breasts have more stroma (non-fatty gland, support tissues, and milk ducts) than fatty tissues.

Dense breasts are not only twice as likely to develop breast cancer but also make it harder to detect cancer on a mammogram.

Related Read: Everything you need to know about Breast density

Personal history of Breast Cancer

With a personal history of breast cancer, you are 3-4 times more likely to witness the resurgence of cancer. The occurrence of a new case is due to the ‘risk of recurrence.’ Other non-cancerous breast conditions like lobular carcinoma and atypical hyperplasia can also cause breast cancer.

At the same time, you can develop breast cancer if you have previously received radiation to the chest or face area.

Breast Cancer risk factors within your control

While the risk factors mentioned above are beyond your control, here are some others that you can control:


Obesity contributes to the risk of recurrence of breast cancer. The fat cells present in the body of an obese individual synthesizes more oestrogen, which increases the risk factor. By keeping your weight in check with a healthy diet, you can reduce your risk of cancer.

Sedentary lifestyle

Lack of exercise could make you more likely to develop breast cancer. Thus, aim to participate in moderate to vigorous exercise for at least 4 to 7 hours a week. This lifestyle change will not only reduce your chances of getting cancer but will also help with weight maintenance.

Reproductive history

Women who have either had their first child after the age of 30 or those who haven’t had a full-term pregnancy are highly susceptible to breast cancer. Pregnancy at the right age may protect you from the disorder. Similarly, breastfeeding your baby for more than a year can also inhibit breast cancer.

Smoking or alcohol intake

The consumption of nicotine and alcoholic beverages is linked to a greater occurrence of breast cancer. Alcohol boosts oestrogen levels, which can increase cancer risks. On the other hand, smoking raises complications during cancer treatment.

Signs and symptoms of Breast Cancer

Here are some well-known breast cancer symptoms:

  • Lump formation in the breast or the armpit
  • Uneven thickening or swelling of the breasts
  • Dimpling of the breast skin
  • Flaky skin, itchiness, and redness in the areolar region
  • Inverted nipples
  • Bloody nipple discharge
  • Intense pain in the breasts

Read: Breast Cancer Symptoms and Warning Signs


If you belong to any high-risk categories stated above, it is vital to screen your breasts regularly. It’s good practice to do a self-exam once a month and monitor the development of any lumps or lesions. Consult the best breast cancer doctor immediately when you display any of the above signs of breast cancer.

Also, Read: Breast Pain: 10 Reasons Your Breasts May Hurt

Dr. Rohan Khandelwal
Author: Dr. Rohan Khandelwal
Dr. Rohan Khandelwal is a renowned surgeon who has completed his fellowship in breast oncology and advanced breast surgery from esteemed institutes like The Aiello Breast Center, University of Maryland. He has garnered over 17 years of clinical experience from some of the most reputed healthcare facilities across the country. He specializes in benign and cancerous breast disorders in both genders. He is also the editor in chief for the New Indian Journal of Surgery and Journal of Young Medical Researcher.