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Risk factors

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

Risk factors are things that increase your personal risk of developing breast cancer.

Significance of risk factors

Women with risk factors have an increased probability of actually contracting breast cancer. Important note: this is all a question of probabilities. Some women display all the risk factors but do not develop the disease.

Risk factors also play a role in the early detection of breast cancer: doctors recommend more frequent mammogram screening for women with an increased risk. Further information about early detection methods can be found under the menu item “Early detection”.

Known risk factors

Although the causes of breast cancer are not yet fully understood, researchers have already identified a series of risk factors. It has not been conclusively determined which factors ultimately trigger breast cancer.

The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Most cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50, owing to the fact that the probability of abnormal cell divisions increases with age.

Early onset of menstruation
Women who entered puberty before the age of 12 have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. The reason for this is the extended period over which these women produce oestrogen. Researchers believe that this female hormone plays a role in the development of breast cancer.

Late pregnancy or childlessness
Women who were over 30 when they gave birth to their first child or who have never had children have a slightly increased risk of contracting the disease.

The predisposition to develop breast cancer is hereditary. Women with a first-degree relative – i.e. a mother or sister – who has already developed breast cancer have an increased risk of contracting the disease themselves. Further information is available under the menu item “Heredity”.

Evidence of abnormal breast cells in a biopsy
If changes in breast tissue have already been discovered in a tissue sample, there is an increased risk of contracting the disease.

If tissue changes are discovered via palpation or a mammogram, a biopsy is performed. This involves removing tissue from the breast and examining it for degenerated breast cells under the microscope. In medical terminology, these degenerated cells are referred to as “atypical breast cells”.


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