Breast Cancer Risks


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Breast Cancer Risks

Breast Cancer Awareness

Do you think you are too young to think about breast cancer?  Do you know anyone who has had breast cancer?  Discuss this with your mother, aunts, grandmothers and other women in your life.

How Does Cancer Start?

Normally, your body produces millions of cells to replace those which have been damaged or have died - there by keeping the body healthy.   Sometimes however, cells in one part of the body begin to grow and divide out of control and outlive normal cells, eventually forming a cancer.  Breast cancer starts in breast tissues such as ducts and lobules.

 Who Gets Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canadian women with an estimated 1 in 9 expected to develop the disease over the course of their lifetime (age 90).  Breast cancers are diagnosed in men but at very small rates (less than 1% of breast cancers).

While breast cancer can occur at any age, about 80% occurs in women over the age of 50 years.  A small number will be diagnosed in women under the age of 30 years (less than 0.5%). 

There is no single cause of breast cancer, which is why there is no known way to prevent the disease.  However, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of developing the disease.  Some of these factors cannot be controlled, but others can be changed and potentially reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
It is important to know your own risk factors and what you can do to reduce your risk.

Know Your Risk!

The greatest risk factors for developing breast cancer are being a woman and getting older (especially after menopause or age 50) – gender and age. 

Factors You Cannot Control:

  • Gender and Age

Factors You Can Control:

The main risk factors which can be controlled deal with lifestyle.  The following are the main factors which can affect the development of breast cancer.

  • Unbalanced or Unhealthy Diet
  • Lack of Physical Activity
  • Consumption of Alcohol
  • Tobacco Smoke or Exposure to Second Hand Smoke
  • Above Average Body Weight
  • Use of Prescription Hormones   

But remember, breast cancer does occur in women with no risk factors other than being a women getting older, while women with more than one risk factor may never develop the disease. 

 Reduce Your Risk:

Some lifestyle risk factors you can change to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer and other diseases.  These would include the following:

Reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight may require a combination of changes in diet and physical activity.  While a healthy body weight is important throughout your life, it becomes more important as you get older.

Get Active: 

Get active, for at least 30 minutes a day, and at least 5 days a week.   It does not need to be a structured activity but can include walking, taking the stairs, biking or hiking.   And, it does not need to beat one time but can be spread throughout the day.

Eat Well: 

Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.  Limit your intake of sugar, fat and foods high in trans-fats (fried foods and pastries).  Include fish and legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils), limit red meat, and include Vitamin D rich foods.

Eat a variety of foods following Canada’s Food Guide.

 Limit Alcohol Intake: 

If you do drink, limit yourself to one drink or less per day.  Less alcohol is better, no alcohol is best.

Avoid Tobacco:

Do not smoke or use tobacco products.   Try to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke.  If you do smoke, Quit.  Talk to your doctor about ways to STOP!

It is never too early or too late to make a change.

Early Detection – A Life Plan:

While there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, when it comes to preventing breast cancer, there are no magic solutions and no guarantees.  Because there are no guarantees, there are steps you should take to detect breast cancer early.  Early detection of breast cancer is a life plan, starting at an early age.  There are no early detection tests which are 100% effective in finding breast cancers.  This is why developing a life plan, combining risk reduction with different detection options is important.

Know Your Breasts:

Learn and Check for Signs and Symptoms:

Check for changes in all areas of your breast and armpit area.  There is no right or wrong way, do what works for you and feels comfortable.  

While most changes do not mean breast cancer, they do need to be checked.

See your doctor about any changes – your doctor will examine your breasts and arrange for other tests you might need.


Discuss your risk factors with your doctor and based on your age and risk, your doctor may recommend a life plan including regular Clinical Breast Examinations (a physical examination of the breast and armpit area performed by a trained health care provider) and/or screening mammograms (x-rays of the breast performed on a regular basis).  

Every woman should develop a life plan for the early detection of breast cancer.   

Age 20 to 39:

  • Regular Periodic Health Examination
  • Know Your Breasts

Age 40 to 49:

  • Regular CBE performed by a trained health care provider
  • Based on personal risk factors, annual mammograms
  • Know Your Breasts

Over Age 49:

  • Regular screening mammograms – frequency based on risk
  • Regular CBE by a trained health care provider
  • Know Your Beasts