The three main risk factors for breast cancer are ones we can’t do anything about:
- getting older
- significant family history.
Being a woman is the single biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer. Around 62,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK, of which only about 390 are in men.
After gender, age is the most significant risk factor for developing breast cancer – the older the person, the higher the risk. Most breast cancers (81%) occur in women over the age of 50. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60.
The following statistics give the estimated risk of women developing breast cancer according to age, showing how risk goes up as we get older:
- Risk up to and including age 29: 1 in 1,950
- Risk up to and including age 39: 1 in 210
- Risk up to and including age 49: 1 in 48
- Risk up to and including age 59: 1 in 22
- Risk up to and including age 69: 1 in 13
- Lifetime risk: 1 in 8
The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8 (absolute risk) for a woman who lives to be around 84. This also means that 7 out of 8 women will not develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and the risk for younger women is much lower.
Significant family history
Because breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, having someone in your family with breast cancer doesn’t automatically mean your own risk is increased. For most people, having a relative with breast cancer does not increase their risk.
However, a small number of women and men have an increased risk of developing breast cancer because they have a significant family history. A family history is significant if there are a number of cases of breast and ovarian cancer in the family, and/or cases at a young age, and/or male relatives with breast cancer.
Our pages on breast cancer in families have more information about this.