Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among U.S. women and the second leading cause of death from cancer among women after lung cancer.

The American Cancer Soceity

Although doctors don’t know the exact cause of breast cancer beyond the fact that it stems from damage to a cell’s DNA, several factors can affect your risk of it. Many of the known risk factors for breast cancer are beyond your control, for example, family history or having dense breasts. But you can control others, such as obesity, low exercise levels, and alcohol use. Exposure to too much estrogen, a female hormone that stimulates breast cell growth in many types of breast cancer, is another risk factor – some exposure to this hormone and substances that mimic it are controllable, while others are not.

Having any of these risk factors doesn’t mean you will get breast cancer, nor does their absence mean you won’t! The number one risk is being female, and aging (though a huge privilege!) increases risk. The best way to manage risk is to live a healthy lifestyle and practice early detection which includes discussing your individual risk factors and appropriate screening methods (and when to do them) with your medical professional.


Camp Kesem: Children of parents with cancer can attend Camp Kesem free summer camps. 

Help for Cancer Caregivers: Helps cancer caregivers manage their own health and wellness needs. 

Men Against Cancer: Educates and empowers men to provide support for loved ones with cancer. 

Mothers Supporting Daughters with Breast Cancer: Supporting mothers whose daughters have breast cancer. 

8 Factors you CAN Control

  • Screenings – Getting regularly scheduled mammograms (consider the 3D option) or clinical breast exams can help with early detection. 
  • Weight – maintaining a healthy weight through a well balanced diet that is low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Being overweight or obese after menopause raises risk.
  • Alcohol Consumption – Research is consistent. Alcohol increases risk. This is likely because it increases levels of estrogen and other hormones, can cause unwanted weight gain, and can damage DNA. Risk increases with the amount consumed. Drinking during adolescence and young adulthood also increases lifetime risk.
  • Exercise – Evidence shows a link between frequent and regular exercise and a lower risk, plus it’s just plain healthy – physically and mentally!
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) After Menopause – The risk of using HRT after menopause varies depending on type, duration, and elapsed time since use. The American Cancer Society suggests you carefully weigh the risks and benefits with your doctor before choosing to use any HRT, including “bioidentical” or “natural” hormones.
  • Vitamin D Levels – Research suggests low levels of vitamin D, which helps immune system function and may control breast cell growth, may increase risk.
  • Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding, especially for longer than six months, reduces risk of breast cancer.
  • Other Risk Factors – These include smoking tobacco and eating meats grilled at high temperatures.
  • Family History of Breast Cancer – Having a first-degree relative (immediate family: mother, father, sister, brother, child) with breast cancer or a first-degree female relative with ovarian cancer increases your risk.
  • Genetics – About 5% to 10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, caused by abnormal genes passed from parent to child.
  • Personal History of Cancer – A breast cancer diagnosis increases risk of a new cancer (not a recurrence) developing in the other breast or a different part of the same breast.
  • Dense Breast Tissue – Research has shown that dense breasts (detectable by mammography, and more common in pre-menopausal women) are more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Radiation Therapy to the Chest or Face – Radiation to the chest area as a child or young adult as a treatment for another cancer (such as Hodgkin’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) or radiation to the face for acne treatment as an adolescent increases risk.
  • Menstrual Periods and Menopause – Females who had periods before age 12 or began menopause after age 55 have a higher risk.
  • Pregnancy – Women who haven’t had a full-term pregnancy or who had their first child at age 30 or later have a higher risk.
  • Certain Benign Breast Conditions – Certain non-cancerous breast conditions, such as atypical hyperplasia, raise the risk.

More information on risk + impacts

Learn more about risk factors and impacts on racial and ethic groups along with the LGBTQ+ community on our Embrace Blog. 


Pink and red ribbons are closer than you think. Recent research highlights the increased necessity for breast cancer survivors and their doctors to focus more on heart health. Often women diagnosed with breast cancer have pre-existing conditions specifically diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure that raise the overall risk for heart disease. These risk factors are even higher once treatment for breast cancer begins. It becomes important for breast cancer survivors to work closely with their doctors to manage current and future risk of heart disease.

Here is what we know: According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women (1 out of 3 each year) and can sometimes be a complication of breast cancer treatments. Survivors are more likely to die from heart disease than a cancer recurrence. The problems directly related to cancer include fluid buildup around the heart or through treatments that target cancer including radiation and chemotherapy.

What can you do: A heart-healthy diet and exercise can help with both breast cancer and heart disease. This is especially true during treatment – even a small amount of exercise and a healthy diet can help.

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