Are you at risk for breast cancer?

Stay healthy to reduce your risk of breast cancer.

More than 40,000 American women are taken from their families by breast cancer each year. Given this daunting statistic, it’s critical to take preventative measures, like receiving regular breast cancer screenings. Early detection improves survival rates immensely.

By understanding the risk factors, you can take steps to reduce your chance of diagnosis. Some risks associated with breast cancer can’t be changed, but other influencers—weight, physical activity, diet—can be altered with lifestyle choices. And in some cases, breast cancer can be prevented. Here’s what you need to know about your risk, and what you can (or unfortunately, can’t) do about it:

What risk factors can you control?

  • Physical activity. Women who practice regular physical activity have been shown to have a lower risk of breast cancer than those who are inactive. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense activity a week. A study from the Women’s Health Initiative found that as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman’s breast cancer risk by 18 percent.
  • Weight. Being overweight can be especially harmful after menopause. At this point, increased estrogen levels from excess fat tissue can increase the chance of developing breast cancer. If you’re already at a healthy weight, stay there. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds, it may be helpful to kickstart a nutrition and exercise plan.
  • Drinking alcohol. Women who have two to three drinks of alcohol a day have about a 20 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who don’t drink. The American Cancer Society also recommends that women who consume alcohol limit themselves to one drink a day.
  • Hormone therapy. If you use hormone therapy to control symptoms of menopause—night sweats, hot flashes, and others—talk with your medical provider. Long-term hormone therapy of more than three to five years can increase your breast cancer risk.

What are risk factors beyond your control?

  • Gender. This is the number one risk factor for breast cancer. Men can be diagnosed too, but this disease is about 100 times more common in females.
  • Getting older. The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Most diagnoses occur after the age of 55.
  • Genetics. About five to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are hereditary from a mutation in the BRCA gene. On average, a woman with a BRCA gene mutation has about a seven in 10 chance of getting breast cancer by age 80.
  • Family history. It’s important to note that most women with breast cancer (about eight out of 10) do not have a family history of the disease. But, a woman’s risk for breast cancer almost doubles if she has a first-degree relative—mother, sister, or daughter—who has had breast cancer.

To learn more about how to reduce your breast cancer risk, visit