Breast cancer is a complex disease with no known single cause. Breast cancer research has linked the likelihood of developing breast cancer to a number of risk factors.
With knowledge about risk factors we can make changes in our lives to help reduce our risk of breast cancer.
A breast cancer risk factor is something that increases a person’s chance of developing breast cancer. Established risk factors are backed up by a body of research with conclusive evidence that is confirmed by different sources and studies. The research looks for factors that are seen more often in people who develop breast cancer than in those who do not. While a single research study is not enough to establish a risk factor, it may indicate an area that needs to be explored further.
Established risk factors are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This means that they are linked to the development of the disease, although they may not be a direct cause.
Not all risk factors are equal
Something to be aware of is that not all risk factors bear the same weight. Some are linked to a higher increase in the risk of breast cancer, while others are linked to a moderate or lower increase.
While risk factors are established by conclusive research, they cannot be seen as rules or guarantees. Even if you have several risk factors for breast cancer, this does not mean you will develop the disease. On the other hand, some women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors other than being a woman. This tells us that there’s much more to be discovered about breast cancer, its risk factors, and what we can do to reduce the risk.
Why are risk factors important?
Knowledge about risk factors can change the way you understand your risk of breast cancer and the actions you take to reduce your risk. Some risk factors can be changed: they are modifiable. This means you can make changes in your life to help reduce your risk. An example of a modifiable risk factor is how physically active you are.
Other factors are not modifiable, meaning, you cannot change them. For example, you cannot change your age or the genes you inherited. Even if you cannot change these risk factors, learning about them can help you to make informed decisions about how best to reduce your risk of breast cancer.
To make an informed decision about what is right for you, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages you to learn about your breast health, breast cancer risk, ways to reduce your risk, and your screening options for the earlier detection of breast cancer. You may find it helpful to speak to a health care provider to inform your decisions.
Established risk factors
Conclusive research has established the following as breast cancer risk factors. Several modifiable risk factors for breast cancer are related to the way we live – making changes in these areas of your life will help you to reduce your risk of breast cancer.
Understanding breast cancer risk
Reduce your risk of breast cancer
About breast cancer