PUBLISHED ON: 24 May 2018

Although we know that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, it can be difficult to get your head around your personal risk of breast cancer. 

1 in 8 infographic

What are the risk factors for breast cancer? 

Risk factors can increase or decrease the likelihood of getting breast cancer. The three main risk factors for developing breast cancer are things we can’t do anything about:

  • being female
  • getting older
  • having a significant family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

As recent research confirms, there are other factors that can slightly increase or decrease the risk of having breast cancer. Some examples of lifestyle factors that may increase your risk are:

  • being overweight (especially after the menopause) 
  • drinking alcohol, especially drinking more than the recommended daily amount

What does this mean for me?

Exactly why some people get breast cancer and others don't isn’t fully understood. Research – such as from the World Cancer Research Fund on cancer and obesity this week – suggests that it’s caused by a combination of lots of different factors. 

Breast Cancer Care Clinical Nurse Specialist Carolyn Rogers says,

The lifestyles people lead are just one part of the bigger picture. The greatest risk factors for breast cancer are out of our control. So any lifestyle changes must go hand in hand with knowing all the signs and symptoms of the disease.

»Read Breast Cancer Care's full statement in response to the World Cancer Research Fund study on cancer and obesity.

Does my family history increase my risk?

For most people, having a relative with breast cancer does not increase their risk. But a small number of women and men may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer because they have a significant family history of people with breast and ovarian cancer.

»Read more about breast cancer in families.

Can I reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Try not to worry about risk factors that you can’t do anything about. Instead, think about lifestyle changes you might make that could reduce your risk and may also help improve your general health. For example:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • doing regular exercise
  • not drinking alcohol or not drinking more alcohol than the recommended daily amount

It’s important to be breast aware whatever your age as sticking to these lifestyle choices may not prevent you from getting breast cancer. Your individual risk is unique and may change over time.

Finding support

If you're concerned about this or any other breast cancer or breast health related issue call our Helpline free on 0808 800 6000.

You can also order free copies of our pocket-sized mini guide Taking Care of Your Breasts for friends and family.

Order your guide