How to assess your breast cancer risk factors


The statistics are frightening, but how likely are you to get breast cancer in your lifetime? Leading oncologist Dr. Anne Moore explains how to assess your breast cancer risk factors.

How to assess your breast cancer risk factors

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Dr. Anne Moore talks to us about how to assess breast cancer risk factors.

Breast Cancer and Gender

  • The highest risk factor for breast cancer is being a woman. Men can develop the disease too, but it’s not as common (about 1 in 100 cases are among men).
Family History of Breast Cancer
  • The second increased risk factor is family history. A woman with a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer is at increased risk. If the father’s family has a history of breast cancer, then there’s also a risk.
  • Most breast cancers come out of the blue, without any family history.
  • If your family carries a breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2), your risk can be calculated. It’s harder to assess the risk for families without a breast cancer gene present, even if there’s a long history of breast cancer.
  • Your doctor may refer you to a geneticist if you show a family history.

Early Detection and Reducing Risk of Breast Cancer

  • If you carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, screenings like MRIs and mammograms should start at age 25, as this is a significant risk factor for breast cancer.
  • Certain ethnic groups, such as those with an Ashkenazi Jewish anchestry, are more likely to carry this gene mutation, but any group can have it.
  • To reduce your breast cancer risk factors, do not smoke, maintain a healthy weight, eat a low-fat diet and exercise (even moderate exercise).
  • Keep in mind that the “one-in-eight” statistic refers to women who live to age 95.
For more information go to or call the Susan G. Komen for the Cure helpline at 1-800-IM AWARE.

RENE: Hello I'm Rene Syler, ambassador with The Cure Foundation and someone who knows a lot about breast cancer. I've seen it up close and personal. Both my mother and father had the disease. You perhaps have heard by now that one in eight women will develop the disease at some point in her lifetime. But, what exactly does that mean? Here to help you assess your risk is Dr. Anne Moore. She's the medical director of the breast oncology program at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Moore good to see you.

DR. MOORE: Thank you Rene.

RENE:  What are some of the factors that influence a person's chance of getting breast cancer? 

DR. MOORE: Well the first, the first factor is that she's a woman. That of course is the highest risk. But of course we see breast cancer in men. About one in a hundred of our patients will be a male patient and it always takes the men by surprise.  The second increased risk is family history. Most women with breast cancer do not have a positive family history, but a woman who has a sister or a mother or a daughter who's had breast cancer is at increased risk. Now we can't forget the father's family too. If a woman's father's family has breast cancer, she also could inherit a risk for breast cancer. 

RENE: But even if you have that family link, most breast cancers sort of come out of the blue don't they?

DR. MOORE: Most breast cancers come right out of the blue. And a typical woman will say, I can't believe I got breast cancer, nobody in my family has had it. And that is typical rather than unusual.

RENE:  But if you do have a family member on your father's side, your mother's side, in my case I had a mother and father, what does that do to you risk? Does it increase exponentially?

DR. MOORE:  It increases your risk. If the family carries a gene mutation, the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation, we can actually calculate more or less what the risk would be. There's many families where there's just a lot of breast cancer and they don't have the gene mutation. We know those families are still at risk. We can't calculate it as well as we can for the women who carry the gene mutation. 

RENE:  As a doctor if you saw a woman who had breast cancer on every level of her family tree you would suggest seeing a geneticist or genetic counselor?

DR. MOORE:  I would because I think in this case the more information you have the better you can make decisions.

RENE:  If you do have a family history, do you need to be screened more often? 

DR. MOORE:  With out mutation carriers who really are at high risk to great breast cancer, we start screening them very early at the age of 25. We add MRI quite often to their screening and we do certainly recommend the annual mammogram.

RENE:  In terms of ethnicity, is there a link there at all? Are African-American women more prone to breast cancer than Anglo women? 

DR. MOORE:  Again from the gene mutation, from the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 studies, we do see that there are, for instance women of Ashkenazi Jewish anchestry have a slightly higher risk of having the gene mutation of any group of women, African-American, Asian can have the gene mutation also.

RENE:  In terms of what we can do--your genes it's the luck of the draw, you know you're at the mercy of your family--but in terms of diet and lifestyle, there are some things we can do. I can imagine not smoking is a big one. 

DR. MOORE:  Not smoking is key for everything. There's no question about that. It is important both diet and exercise turn out to be important in breast cancer. Women who keep thin, who stay on a low-fat diet have a lower risk for breast cancer as they get older. And women who exercise have a lower-risk and it doesn't even have to be a lot of exercise. Moderate exercise lowers the risk for breast cancer. 

RENE:  Eat right, don't smoke, get out there and do something. 

DR. MOORE: That's for sure. 

RENE:  One in eight women I think is the statistic in terms of breast cancer, is that correct?

DR. MOORE:  That's the one we hear, one in eight.  When we use the one in eight figure, it's really one in eight women who live to be 95 years old will get breast cancer. Most women will not. So if we have a room of 50 year old women, most of them, it's not one in eight. Most of those women will die before 95, most commonly of heart disease. So that's a little bit--it's important to understand that one in eight statistic.

RENE: Dr. Moore thank you. For more information you can visit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website at or you can call their help line at 1800 IM AWARE. I'm Rene Syler.  

meet theexpert
  • Dr. Anne Moore

    Dr. Anne Moore Oncologist Dr. Anne Moore, Professor of Clinical Medicine at Cornell University. She is listed in "The Best Doctors in America" by American Health Magazine, and has been honored with numerous awards for her encouragement and support of women with breast cancer. more about this expert »

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