Risk factors

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 following factors are known to increase the risk of developing breast cancer:

  • being 50 years old or older
  • being assigned female at birth
  • 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 an above-average exposure to estrogen, which your body naturally produces. This could be due to:
    • never having given birth
    • giving birth for the first time after age 30
    • starting menstruation at a young age
    • reaching menopause later than average
    • having taken hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progestin) for more than five years
  • being obese, especially after menopause
  • consuming more than one alcoholic drink a day
  • taking oral contraceptives that contain both estrogen and progesterone
  • smoking

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

Nothing about being lesbian, bisexual or queer inherently increases our chances of getting breast cancer. But we are more likely to be exposed to certain risk factors. This is because on average, and in comparison to heterosexual women, we are:

  • less likely to maintain a healthy weight
  • more likely to consume larger amounts of alcohol
  • less likely to give birth at a younger age
  • more likely to give birth at an older age.

A healthcare provider can help you determine your risk of breast cancer and provide you with a personal plan for screening. If you're at higher than average risk, you'll 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.