The causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, but some factors that are known to increase the risk.
Being a woman
Being a woman is the main risk factor for breast cancer. Women are 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men.
Age is the next biggest risk factor in developing breast cancer. Around 75% of all breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. Current research shows that breast cancer screening is most effective in detecting early breast cancer in women aged 50-69 years.
Family history can be a strong indicator of women who are likely to benefit from screening. Having a mother, sister, daughter, father, son, brother, aunt or cousin who developed breast cancer before the age of 50 increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Staff at BreastScreen Australia services can assist women in working out their family history.
However, 9 out of 10 women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of breast cancer.
If you are concerned about your family history of breast cancer, you may wish to go to the Cancer Australia website for more information. There is also a breast cancer risk calculator within the website that can calculate a woman’s breast cancer risk (if she has not already been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer).
Having more than two standard drinks per day increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. This risk increases with each additional standard alcoholic drink.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Use of combination hormone replacement therapy by postmenopausal women for five or more years is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
An individual woman’s level of risk in relation to HRT will vary according to her circumstances and medical history. Women who are considering starting or who are taking HRT should always discuss their risks and options with their doctor.
Women who use oral contraceptives (the Pill) have a small increase risk of breast cancer while using combined oral contraceptives and in the 10 years after stopping.
Having a child late in age or not having any children
Women who have their first child at an early age have a lower risk of breast cancer. Women who never have any children or who have a child later in life have a slightly higher risk of developing the disease.
Age at puberty or menopause
Starting menstruation before the age of 12 is associated with higher breast cancer risk while women who experience menopause later (age 55 or after) have twice the risk of developing breast cancer of women who experience natural menopause younger than 45.
Last reviewed: September 2016