Your Breast Cancer Risk

Make an Appointment
For the Charlottesville area:
For Manassas or Haymarket:

Many things can increase your breast cancer risk. Some of these things you can control and some you can't. One major risk is inheriting the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Learn what having these genes mean, plus other things that put you at risk for breast cancer.

Understanding BRCA1 & BRCA2 Genes

The mutations that most often cause breast cancer are changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes ("Breast cancer 1 gene" and "Breast cancer 2 gene").

Women with inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are 3 to 7 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who do not have the mutations, and at an earlier age.

There are also many other less common gene mutations that can cause breast cancer (for example, PTEN, p53, CDH, ATM, CHEK2 among others).

Who's Most at Risk for BRCA1 or 2?

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the women who are mostly likely to have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are those of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish heritage and/or those with family members who have had:

  • Multiple cases of breast cancer
  • Cases of both breast and ovarian cancer, or
  • One or more family members with two primary cancers (original tumors at different sites)

However, the NCI also notes that not every woman in such families carries an alteration in BRCA1 or BRCA2, and not every cancer in such families is linked to alterations in these genes.

What Else Increases My Risk for Breast Cancer? 

  • Age — Risk increases with age, especially after age 50
  • Gender — Women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than men, but men can get it, too
  • Race — White, non-Hispanic women have the highest overall rate for breast cancer in the United States. African-American women who are ages 40 to 50 have a higher incidence than white women.
  • Personal history of cancer (this may be caused by both heredity and environmental factors)
  • Family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer
  • Early onset of menstrual periods (before the age of 12)
  • No children or children born later in life
  • Late menopause (after age 55)
  • Use of (combined) hormone replacement therapy (estrogen and progesterone)
  • Alcohol use, especially excessive use
  • Overweight and lack of physical activity
  • High bone density
  • High breast density
  • Hyperplasia

Worried About Your Risk? 

You'll want to consult with a genetic counselor, an important part of the breast care team at UVA Health.

The writer as a child, with her dad. Family info started her journey to uncover her genetic breast cancer risk.

How to Deal With a Scary Discovery

Finding out you might have a high risk for breast cancer can be scary - until you learn there's something you can do about it.

Read Megan's story