What Is the Risk of Breast Cancer by Age?

Medically Reviewed on 6/22/2022
What Is the Risk of Breast Cancer by Age
Breast cancer is usually found in women ages 50 and older

Age is the most significant risk factor for breast cancer, with the risk increasing with age. The risk peaks during menopause and remains constant or reduces afterwards:

  • Ages 30-40: 0.49%-1.55%
  • Ages 50-60: 2.40%-3.54%
  • Age 70: 4.09%

Breast cancer is usually found in women ages 50 and older. Although breast cancer is rare in younger women, it is still the most common cancer among women aged 15-39 years, and certain types of breast cancer are becoming more common in young women. About 11% of all types of breast cancer occur in women younger than 45.

Therefore, it is important to examine your breasts monthly beginning at age 20. If you are at higher risk for breast cancer, you should have a mammogram every two years.

What are risk factors for breast cancer?

Common risk factors for breast cancer include the following:

  • Gender: Breast cancer can be diagnosed in men, but it is significantly common in women. Breast cells in women are continually exposed to female hormones that drive cell proliferation. 
  • Age: Risk of breast cancer increases with age. 
  • Genes: It is estimated that 5%-10 of breast cancer cases are caused by gene abnormalities. An inherited mutation in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is the most prevalent cause of hereditary breast cancer. Other gene variants can increase your risk of breast cancer, but they are considerably less common and do not increase your risk as much as BRCA.
  • Family history: Breast cancer risk is higher in women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer (mother, sister, daughter, father, and brother). According to the American Cancer Society, about 15% of women with breast cancer have a family relative who has the condition. Although family history is an essential risk factor, keep in mind that more than 70% of women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
  • Personal history of breast cancer: You are more likely to acquire a new breast cancer if you have already had one.  
  • Ethnicity: Caucasian women are somewhat more likely than African American women to acquire breast cancer. African American women are more likely to develop malignant tumors and die from breast cancer. Triple negative breast cancer is the most common type of breast cancer among African American women.
  • Dense breast tissue: Women with more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue have more dense breast tissue, which can increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Precancerous breast conditions: Women who have certain benign breast diseases (such as nipple ectasia) may be at a higher risk of breast cancer. 
  • Chest radiation: If you had radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, you are far more likely to get breast cancer later in life. The younger you were when you received treatment, the greater your risk.
  • Estrogen exposure: Women who started menstruation before the age of 12 years and/or went through menopause at or after the age of 55 years have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Women who have never had children or whose first pregnancy occurred when they were 35 years or older are also at a slightly increased risk. This may be due to a greater lifetime exposure to hormones.
  • Recent oral contraceptive use: According to studies, women who take oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than those who have never used them. Women who stopped taking oral contraceptives more than 10 years ago do not appear to be at a high risk of breast cancer.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Women receiving the particular mix of hormone therapy estrogen plus progestin have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Being overweight or obese: Being overweight or obese after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. The risk appears to be higher in women who gained weight as adults, but it may not be higher in those who have been overweight since childhood. 
  • Lack of physical activity: Regular physical activity appears to lessen the incidence of breast cancer. 
  • Alcohol intake: Alcohol is definitely associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.  The American Cancer Society recommends that women restrict their alcohol consumption to one drink per day.
  • Exposure to certain carcinogens: Chemicals present in cigarette smoke and charred red meat have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. 
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke: Heavy smoking may be associated with a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers are investigating the relationship between secondhand smoking and breast cancer in people with a family history of breast cancer.


Breast Cancer Awareness: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment See Slideshow

What are screening options for breast cancer?

Breast cancer survival rates are highest when detected at an early stage. Screening options for breast cancer include the following:

  • Mammograms: Can detect breast cancer at an early stage and enhance overall survival
  • Breast ultrasound: Sometimes used as a screening test although it is most beneficial as a follow-up test following a clinical examination or mammography
  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: Used to screen women younger than 50 who are at a high risk of breast cancer. 
  • Self-examinations: Involves regularly checking your breasts for lumps, which can help with early detection.
  • Blood chemistry study: Blood sample is examined to determine the levels of certain chemicals produced in the blood by certain organs and tissues. 
  • Biopsy: Involves removing cells or tissues to check for signs of malignancy.
  • Genetic testing: May be an option if you have a family history of breast cancer.

How is breast cancer treated?

Treatment for breast cancer is determined by size of the tumor as well as stage and spread of the disease. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery:
    • Lumpectomy: Removes cancerous breast tissue as well as a margin of tissue around it.
    • Mastectomy: Removes the entire breast.
    • Sentinel node biopsy: Removes lymph nodes that are the first to get lymph drainage from the tumor.
    • Axillary lymph node dissection: Removes more lymph nodes if cancer cells are detected in the sentinel lymph nodes.
    • Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy: Healthy breast tissue is removed to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer again.
    • Breast reconstruction: Done after breast removal for aesthetic purposes.
  • Radiation therapy: Intense bursts of radiation are used to eliminate the cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Medications are used to destroy cancer cells, often following surgery if there is a high chance of the cancer returning.
  • Hormone therapy: Synthesis of estrogen and progesterone hormones is inhibited, as these can drive tumor development.
  • Complementary and alternative medicines: These can help minimize side effects, relieve pain, and boost your immune system. Options may include:
  • Clinical trials:
    • Clinical trials are a component of cancer research. They are performed to determine whether novel cancer therapies are safer and more effective than current treatments. 
    • Participating in a research study may be the best therapy option for some individuals. Others see it as an opportunity to assist enhance cancer treatment in the future.
    • Talk to your doctor about whether clinical trials are an option for you.

Can breast cancer be prevented?

Prevention tips for breast cancer include the following measures:

  • Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Perform a self-breast examination every month
  • Undergo breast cancer screening every two years
  • Breastfeed if and when possible
  • Stop smoking
  • Weigh the risks and benefits of hormone therapy for menopause symptoms
  • Consider prophylactic (preventive) mastectomy after or prior to menopause if you are at high risk for breast cancer
  • Get genetic testing if you have a family history of breast cancer

What are the survival rates for breast cancer?

In general, women who are diagnosed with breast cancer early have a higher chance of survival. Breast tumors that have spread to other regions of the body are more difficult to cure and have a worse prognosis. The overall trend for breast cancer in the United States shows the following survival rates:

  • Stage 0 or stage I: 99%
  • Stage II: 93%
  • Stage III: 72%
  • Metastatic or stage IV: 27%

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Medically Reviewed on 6/22/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer: https://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/overview-risks-breast-cancer#

What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer? https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.htm

Breast Cancer Risk in American Women: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/risk-fact-sheet

Understanding Breast Cancer Risk: https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/understanding-risk

How common is breast cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html