Risk factors

You manage risk. So, there may be that I have an increased risk of cancer because of hormone therapy. But, for me, the risk of getting breast cancer because of hormones is outweighed by the benefits of hormones, the benefits of being happy, of having access to healthcare that affirms my gender, that affirms my identity, that helps me be who I feel I need to be. And then I manage the possible increased risk of cancer by going for regular screening. Debbie

Any substance or condition that increases a person’s chances of developing cancer is referred to as a risk factor.

There is no single cause of breast cancer, but some people are more likely than others to develop the disease. Just because you have some risk factors doesn’t mean that you will get breast cancer, but it does mean that your chances of developing it are higher.

The main risks for getting breast cancer are:

  • being 50 years old or older
  • being assigned female at birth

The following factors are known to increase the risk of developing breast cancer for the population as a whole:

  • having had breast cancer before
  • having a family history (for example, a parent or sibling) of breast or ovarian cancer, especially if the family member was diagnosed before menopause
  • having dense breasts
  • having hereditary mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • having taken gender-affirming hormones (estrogen and progesterone) for more than five years
  • consuming more than two alcoholic drinks a day

Trans women are more likely to be exposed to certain breast cancer risk factors and less likely to others. Overall, trans women are more likely than the general population to:

  • consume larger amounts of alcohol
  • have dense breasts
  • take gender-affirming hormones like estrogen for longer periods of time. (Even so, trans women who take hormones for five years or more are still less likely to develop breast cancer than non-trans women.)

A healthcare provider can help you determine your risk of breast cancer and provide you with a personal plan of screening. If you are at higher than average risk, you will likely need to get checked more often or earlier. In general, high-risk individuals are those who have a strong family history of breast cancer, and/or have gene mutations such as BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Remember, there is no single cause of breast cancer, but having some risk factors may increase the risk of developing it. Some people develop breast cancer without having any of these risk factors.

Visit cancer.ca for more detailed information about these risk factors.