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Are you at risk for breast cancer?


reviewed 10/25/2018

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment

Being a woman is the main risk factor for breast cancer. But there are other factors that influence risk as well. Learning about the risk factors that affect you can help you make good lifestyle and screening decisions.

Note: This assessment is designed for women. It is also not intended to be a substitute for a visit with your healthcare provider.

Are you 55 or older?

If you answered "yes." Most cases of invasive breast cancer—cancer that has grown beyond the layer of cells where it began—occur in women 55 and older.

If you answered "no." While breast cancer can occur at any time in a woman's life, the risk goes up with increasing age. Most cases of invasive breast cancer—cancer that has grown beyond the layer of cells where it began—occur in women 55 and older.

Do you have a close blood relative who has had breast cancer?

If you answered "yes." Your risk for breast cancer increases if others in your family—on either your mother's or father's side—also had the disease. The risk is about doubled if your mother, sister or daughter was affected.

If you answered "no." The risk for breast cancer increases if others in your family—on either your mother’s or father’s side—also had the disease. However, more than 85 percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer have no history of the disease in their family.

Do you have dense breast tissue?

If you answered "yes." Women who have dense breasts—breasts that have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue—have an elevated risk for breast cancer.

If you answered "no." Women who have dense breasts—breasts that have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue—have an elevated risk for breast cancer.

If you answered "I don't know." Having dense breasts—breasts that have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue—increases your risk for breast cancer, and may lead your doctor to recommend screening with MRI in addition to mammography. Ask your doctor if you're unsure of your status. Most often, dense breasts are found in women who are young, pregnant or breastfeeding, but any woman can have them.

Have you been diagnosed with a benign breast condition?

If you answered "yes." Some, but not all, noncancerous breast conditions increase breast cancer risk. If you've been diagnosed with a benign breast problem, it's important to speak with your doctor about whether it could affect your chances for developing cancer.

If you answered "no." Some, but not all, noncancerous breast conditions can increase breast cancer risk.

Did you have your first menstrual period before age 12 or go through menopause after age 55?

If you answered "yes." Your risk for breast cancer may be slightly higher than that of other women, possibly because you’ve had a greater lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

If you answered "no." Your risk for breast cancer may be slightly lower than women who have a greater lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Do you have mutations of your BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes?

If you answered "yes." Mutations in these genes, which normally help prevent uncontrolled cell growth, may be inherited. These mutations greatly increase breast cancer risk. However, there are options for managing this risk. Your doctor can tell you more about them.

If you answered "no." Mutations in these genes, which normally help prevent uncontrolled cell growth, may be inherited. These mutations greatly increase breast cancer risk. But you don't need to have such a mutation to get breast cancer.

If you answered "I don't know." Mutations in these genes, which normally help prevent uncontrolled cell growth, may be inherited. These mutations greatly increase breast cancer risk. Genetic testing is available to determine if you carry the mutations. But currently, there are no standard recommendations for who should have it. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may wish to discuss this testing with your doctor.

Have you used birth control pills in the last 10 years?

If you answered "yes." Women who are using birth control pills have a slightly higher risk of getting breast cancer than women who have never used them. However, after 10 years without the pills, the increased risk seems to disappear.

If you answered "no." Women who are using birth control pills have a slightly higher risk of getting breast cancer than women who have never used them. However, after 10 years without the pills, the increased risk seems to disappear.

Did you give birth to your first child after age 30? Or have you never given birth?

If you answered "yes." Women who have not had children or who had children later in life have a slightly higher risk of getting breast cancer than women who had children earlier. One reason for this may be that pregnancy reduces the number of menstrual cycles a woman has in her lifetime.

If you answered "no." Women who have not had children or who had children later in life have a slightly higher risk of getting breast cancer than women who had children earlier. One reason for this may be that pregnancy reduces the number of menstrual cycles a woman has in her lifetime.

If you had children, did you bottle feed them rather than breastfeed them?

If you answered "yes." Some evidence suggests breastfeeding may slightly lower your risk of developing breast cancer, especially if you do so for 1 1/2 to 2 years. This may be because breastfeeding lowers a woman's total number of menstrual periods.

If you answered "no." Some evidence suggests breastfeeding may slightly lower your risk of developing breast cancer, especially if you do so for 1 1/2 to 2 years. This may be because breastfeeding lowers a woman's total number of menstrual periods.

If you haven't had children. As noted in the previous question, women who have not had children have a slightly higher risk of getting breast cancer than women who have had kids.

Have you taken estrogen and progesterone—known as combined hormone therapy—for the relief of menopausal symptoms?

If you answered "yes." Combined hormone therapy has been shown to increase breast cancer risk. The risk may return to normal within three years of stopping the therapy. Use of estrogen alone does not seem to pose a similar danger, but because it does increase the risk of endometrial cancer it is only used in women who do not have a uterus.

If you answered "no." Combined hormone therapy has been shown to increase breast cancer risk. The risk may return to normal within three years of stopping the therapy. Use of estrogen alone does not seem to pose a similar danger, but because it does increase the risk of endometrial cancer, it is only used in women who do not have a uterus.

Are you overweight or obese?

If you answered "yes." Carrying excess weight—at least after menopause—seems to raise breast cancer risk. That's particularly true if the weight is mostly around your waist.

If you answered "no." Carrying excess weight—at least after menopause—seems to raise breast cancer risk. That's particularly true if the weight is mostly around your waist.

Do you drink alcohol?

If you answered "yes." Drinking alcohol regularly—even just one drink a day—increases breast cancer risk. The more you drink, the greater the risk.

If you answered "no." Drinking alcohol regularly—even just one drink a day—increases breast cancer risk. The more you drink, the greater the risk.

Do you get little or no exercise?

If you answered "yes." Though it isn't clear how much exercise is most beneficial, regular physical activity—such as brisk walking—can reduce your chances for developing breast cancer.

If you answered "no." Though it isn't clear how much exercise is most beneficial, regular physical activity—such as brisk walking—can reduce your chances for developing breast cancer.

Did you or your mother take the drug diethylstilbestrol while pregnant?

If you answered "yes." At one time, diethylstilbestrol was given to women to reduce the risk of miscarriage. It hasn't been prescribed in the U.S. since 1971. But research has shown that women who once took the medication have a slightly increased breast cancer risk. Some evidence suggests the risk may carry over to children exposed in the womb.

If you answered "no." At one time, diethylstilbestrol was given to women to reduce the risk of miscarriage. It hasn't been prescribed in the U.S. since 1971. But research has shown that women who once took the medication have a slightly increased breast cancer risk. Some evidence suggests the risk may carry over to children exposed in the womb.

If you answered "I don't know." It hasn't been prescribed in the U.S. since 1971, but diethylstilbestrol was once given to women to help prevent miscarriage. Research has shown that those who took the medication have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Some evidence suggests the risk may carry over to children exposed in the womb as well.

Have you been treated with radiation to your chest?

If you answered "yes." Radiation treatment to the chest for an earlier cancer significantly increases your chances for developing breast cancer later. Risk appears to be greatest if you received treatment in your teens. Treatment given after age 40 does not seem to pose the same danger.

If you answered "no." Radiation treatment to the chest for an earlier cancer significantly increases your chances for developing breast cancer.

Have you ever had breast cancer?

If you answered "yes." People who have a history of breast cancer are more likely to get the disease again.

If you answered "no." People who have a history of breast cancer are more likely to get the disease again.

Results

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, share the results of this assessment with your doctor and ask for more information about your risk and what you may be able to do about it.

If you answered "no" to all the questions, your answers indicate that you don't currently have any of the breast cancer risk factors listed in this assessment other than being female.

Keep in mind, not having risk factors does not mean you are guaranteed to avoid the disease—just as having risk factors doesn't mean you will get the disease. In addition, there are other potential risk factors for breast cancer currently being studied.

Sources: American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute

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