Are You at Increased risk of Breast Cancer

Most women in this country are at average risk of breast cancer. This means they have about a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer in their lifetime. The risk of any individual woman getting breast cancer is influenced by several factors.

The most important are:


The chances of getting breast cancer increase with age. The chances are about:

1 in 2500 before age 30
1 in 200 before age 40
1 in 50 before age 50
1 in 25 before age 60
1 in 15 before age 70
1 in 8 before age 85

Family History

As breast cancer is quite common; many women have at least one relative who has been affected. This does not necessarily mean that you are at significantly increased risk.

Risk varies according to: 

  • The number of affected blood relatives you have.
  • How closely related they are to you.
  • How young they were when they were diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Whether one or both breasts were affected.
  • Whether you have any male relatives with breast cancer.
  • Whether you have any relatives with cancer of the ovary as well as relatives with breast cancer.
  • Whether a genetic change has been identified in your family.
  • A relative affected on your fathers' side of the family is just as important as a relative affected on your mothers side.

If you think you may have a significant family history of breast cancer you should complete a questionnaire. 

Also see:
Screening women at increased risk of breast cancer.
Genetic testing for breast cancer.
The faulty BRCA1 / BRCA2 gene.


These are rare conditions that are usually found as an incidental finding when the breast is biopsied for other reasons. Risk is moderate but dependent upon several factors that will be discussed in detail if you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions.


Rarely, prior exposure to radiotherapy in the breast area can increase your risk. This applies to only a very small group of women who had radiotherapy to treat another type of cancer (usually lymphoma).

Other Factors

There are many factors that have a slight influence on breast cancer risk such as:

  • The age your periods started (and finished).
  • The number of children you have.
  • Whether you breast fed your children.
  • If you took the contraceptive pill and how long you took it for.
  • If you took HRT after the natural menopause and how long you took it for.
  • Your diet.
  • The amount of regular exercise you do.
  • The amount of alcohol you regularly consume.
  • Your weight.

These factors cannot individually increase your risk to a level where you should be screened more frequently. However collectively, perhaps combined with the main risk factors, they can identify women at high risk.


Q. Can I inherit risk from my fathers' side of the family?

Answer. Yes, risk can be equally inherited from your mothers' and fathers' side of the family.

Q. What can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Answer. Simple (although largely unproven) ways of reducing risk of breast cancer are; eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, moderating alcohol intake, avoid being overweight, breast feed your children, avoid HRT. For high risk women preventative surgery is the only proven means of reducing risk although other methods are under investigation.

Q. Can I have genetic testing for the BRCA1 and 2 genes?

Answer. Genetic testing is becoming more easily available. Anyone who is referred by a specialist can have it. In the NHS you currently need a 10% chance of testing positive before you can be tested. Privately, insurance companies usually offer it on the same basis as the NHS. If you wish to pay for it yourself, then the price is rapidly coming down and it is becoming very affordable.