Breast Cancer Risks

It is important to be aware of your risk factors for breast cancer so you can share that information with your doctor so together you can make informed decisions on when you should be screened. The medical history of you or your family, and the conditions you're afflicted with, may increase your chance of developing breast cancer.

MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper provides women with a comprehensive risk assessment and customized recommendations to prevent and/or detect breast cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage.

A visit to the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Program will empower women with the tools they need to help lower their risk.

Who is at Increased Risk?

The average lifetime risk of breast cancer for American women is one in eight; however, the likelihood of developing breast cancer increases in women who have certain risk factors.

Women who fit the following criteria are the most susceptible to becoming diagnosed with breast cancer:

  • Having a prior cancer diagnosis and anticancer treatment
  • Having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer
  • Having two or more close relatives with breast and/or ovarian cancer, especially under the age of 45 

Additional breast cancer risk factors may include:

  • Age, as the risk of breast cancer increases with age and most cases of breast cancer are found in women age 55 or older
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Breast cancer in a close male relative
  • A breast biopsy showing atypical cells or LCIS
  • Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • Known or suspected genetic mutations
  • Prior radiation to the neck or chest
  • Dense breasts
  • Early menstruation history (before age 12)
  • Pregnancy history (having your first child after age 30)
  • Late menopause (after age 55)
  • Hormone therapy after menopause
  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol use, lack of exercise

The Risks You Can Control

There are some steps you can take that may reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Some of these steps include:

  • Eating well
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting to and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting exposure to radiation

The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool

Health care providers may use an interactive tool to assess a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. These tools use a woman’s personal, reproductive and family history, as well any risk factors, to generate a score on her future risk. One of the most common and widely used models to assess a woman’s risk is The Gail Model and the Tyrrer-Cuzick model. 

The Gail Model was developed by the National Cancer Institute to calculate a woman’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer over the next 5 years.  A score of 1.66 suggests a woman has a higher risk of breast cancer.