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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer Prevention (PDQ®): Prevention - Patient Information [NCI] - Breast Cancer Prevention

Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may help prevent cancer.

Avoiding cancer risk factors may help prevent certain cancers. Risk factors include smoking, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise. Increasing protective factors such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising may also help prevent some cancers. Talk to your doctor or other health care professional about how you might lower your risk of cancer.

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NCI's Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool uses a woman's risk factors to estimate her risk for breast cancer during the next five years and up to age 90. This online tool is meant to be used by a health care provider. For more information on breast cancer risk, call 1-800-4-CANCER.

The following are risk factors for breast cancer:

Being female and older age

Being female and older age are the main risk factors for breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer in a 70 year old woman is about 10 times that of a 30 year old woman.

Over her lifetime, a woman's risk of developing breast cancer is about one hundred times a man's risk.

A personal or family history of breast cancer or benign (noncancer) breast disease

Women with any of the following have an increased risk of breast cancer:

  • A personal history of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS).
  • A personal history of benign (noncancer) breast disease.
  • A family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter).

Inherited gene changes

Women who have inherited certain changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2genes have a higher risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and maybe colon cancer. The risk of breast cancer caused by inherited gene changes depends on the type of gene mutation, family history of cancer, and other factors. Men who have inherited certain changes in the BRCA2 gene have a higher risk of breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, and lymphoma.

Dense breasts

Breast density is a factor in breast cancer risk. The level of risk depends on how dense the breast tissue is. Women with very dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer than women with low breast density.

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