Talk to your doctor about your personal breast cancer risk and what steps you can take to lower that risk. Better understand your risk with a simple self-assessment tool designed by Worldwide Breast Cancer.

Did you know a woman is at an increased risk of breast cancer:

As she ages. Risk increases across all ages until approximately age 80.
If she has certain inherited genetic mutations for breast cancer (BRCA1 and/or BRCA2).
Has two or more first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter, father or brother) diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age.

A leading breast imaging expert, Dr. Wendie Berg at Magee Women’s Hospital of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, advocate JoAnn Pushkin, and radiological tech Cindy Henke-Sarmento teamed up to answer important questions about what you should know about breast density.

If she has dense breast tissue as determined by a radiologist when reading her mammogram.

box-yourlifestyleMinor risk factors for breast cancer include if the woman:

  • Has had no biological children.
  • Had her first child after age 30.
  • Never breastfed a child.
  • Reached menopause after age 55.
  • Had her first period before age 12.
  • Drinks more than one alcoholic beverage per day.
  • Gained significant weight after menopause.
  • Used menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT, in particular HRT containing both estrogen/progesterone hormones) recently or for a long time to treat symptoms of menopause. Learn more about HRT during menopause at

While you can’t change many known risk factors for breast cancer (being female, one’s age, family history, etc.), YOU CAN modify your lifestyle to reduce at least some of the risks, including:

  • Postmenopausal obesity.
  • Weight gain as an adult (especially in your 40s and 50s).
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) containing both estrogen/progesterone hormones.
  • Maintaining a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Cigarette smoking.
  • Alcohol consumption.

Learn more about how to take action.

Learn about BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutations
It is estimated that less than 10% of breast cancer cases result from known inherited genetic mutations, including those in the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. These BRCA gene mutations are present in only 1% of the general population, but occur more often in certain ethnic groups such as those of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent.[1] You can learn more about family history and genetic predisposition to breast cancer by visiting the Know:BRCA information site about the BRCA gene by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at and visiting FORCE, a group dedicated to fighting hereditary breast and ovarian cancer at Men can carry a BRCA mutation and can be diagnosed with breast cancer. Having a BRCA gene mutation also increases the risk of getting other types of cancer.

Learn about Breast Density
The factors that determine density of breast tissue are not all understood at this time. Breast density is seen and can be measured on a mammogram and is determined by a radiologist. Breast density is not something you can feel with your hands. Breast tissue is described by one of four categories on the mammogram report: (i) mostly fatty; (ii) scattered fibroglandular tissue; (iii) heterogeneously dense; or (iv) extremely dense. The latter two categories are considered “dense.” Having dense breast tissue is a risk factor for breast cancer. Dense breast tissue may also interfere with finding cancers on mammography. Currently 24 states now mandate that women be provided with some level of notification about breast density after they have a mammogram. Even if you do not live in a state with such a law, you can ask your radiologist or referring physician about your breast density and discuss with them the best screening options for you. You can learn more at
Sources & Resources

  1. Society, A.C., Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2013-2014. 2013.
  2. Hunt, B.R., S. Whitman, and M.S. Hurlbert, Increasing Black:White disparities in breast cancer mortality in the 50 largest cities in the United States. Cancer Epidemiol, 2014. 38(2): p. 118-23.
  3. Wild, B.W.S.a.C.P., World Cancer Report 2014 2014.
  4. Ross, A.C., et al., The 2011 report on dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D from the Institute of Medicine: what clinicians need to know. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2011. 96(1): p. 53-8.
  5. Silverstein, M.J., et al., Special report: Consensus conference III. Image-detected breast cancer: state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment. J Am Coll Surg, 2009. 209(4): p. 504-20.

This website was created for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Be sure to partner with your medical provider to develop the best personal care plan for you. Adapted from the American Cancer Society, 2013-2014 Breast Cancer Facts & Figures.