Risk Factors Breast Cancer You Cannot Change

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Gender
Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. Although women have many more breast cells than men, the main reason they develop more breast cancer is because their breast cells are constantly exposed to the growth-promoting effects of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Men can develop breast cancer, but this disease is about 100 times more common among women than men.

Aging
Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. About 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45, while about 2 of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.

Genetic risk factors
About 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, resulting directly from gene defects (called mutations) inherited from a parent. See the section, "Do we know what causes breast cancer?" for more information about genes and DNA.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 : The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. In normal cells, these genes help prevent cancer by making proteins that keep the cells from growing abnormally. If you have inherited a mutated copy of either gene from a parent, you have a high risk of developing breast cancer during your lifetime. The risk may be as high as 80% for members of some families with BRCA mutations. These cancers tend to occur in younger women and more often affect both breasts than cancers in women who are not born with one of these gene mutations. Women with these inherited mutations also have an increased risk for developing other cancers, particularly ovarian cancer.

In the United States BRCA mutations are found most often in Jewish women of Ashkenazi (Eastern Europe) origin, but they can occur in any racial or ethnic group. Changes in other genes: Other gene mutations can also lead to inherited breast cancers. These gene mutations are much rarer and often do not increase the risk of breast cancer as much as the BRCA genes. They are not frequent causes of inherited breast cancer.

· ATM : The ATM gene normally helps repair damaged DNA. Inheriting 2 abnormal copies of this gene causes the disease ataxia-telangiectasia. Inheriting one mutated copy of this gene has been linked to a high rate of breast cancer in some families.
· p53 : Inherited mutations of the p53 tumor suppressor gene cause the Li-Fraumeni syndrome (named after the 2 researchers who first described it). People with this syndrome have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, as well as several other cancers such as leukemia, brain tumors, and sarcomas (cancer of bones or connective tissue). This is a rare cause of breast cancer.
· CHEK2 : The Li-Fraumeni syndrome can also be caused by inherited mutations in the CHEK2 gene. Even when it does not cause this syndrome, it can increase breast cancer risk about twofold when it is mutated.
· PTEN : The PTEN gene normally helps regulate cell growth. Inherited mutations in this gene cause Cowden syndrome, a rare disorder in which people are at increased risk for both benign and malignant breast tumors, as well as growths in the digestive tract, thyroid, uterus, and ovaries. Defects in this gene can also cause a different syndrome called Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome that is not thought to be linked to breast cancer risk.
· CDH1 : Inherited mutations in this gene cause hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, a syndrome in which people develop a rare type of stomach cancer at an early age. Women with mutations in this gene also have an increased risk of invasive lobular breast cancer.
· STK11 : Defects in this gene can lead to Peutz-Jeghers syndrome. People affected with this disorder develop pigmented spots on their lips and in their mouths, polyps in the urinary and gastrointestinal tracts, and an increased risk of many types of cancer, including breast cancer.

Genetic testing : Genetic tests can be done to look for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (or less commonly in other genes such as PTEN or p53). Although testing may be helpful in some situations, the pros and cons need to be considered carefully. For more information, see the section, "Can breast cancer be prevented?"