Breast Cancer Risk Assessment

A breast cancer risk assessment is a tool that can predict the likelihood a person will develop breast cancer over the course of their life. While not a complete review of all breast cancer risks, The GW Cancer Center’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool can help you learn if you have risk factors that may increase your breast cancer risk.

Breast cancer assessment helps healthcare professionals identify individuals who may be at increased risk and tailor appropriate screening, prevention, and treatment strategies. Here are some key factors typically considered in breast cancer risk assessment:

  • Age and Gender: Breast cancer risk increases with age. Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. In the U.S., less than 1% of all breast cancer cases occur in men.
  • Race and Ethnicity/Genetic Factors: Certain racial and ethnic groups have higher incidences of breast cancer. Ashkenazi Jewish women are more likely to inherit BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations, which makes them more likely to develop breast cancer. African American women are more likely to be diagnosed at younger ages and with more aggressive subtypes, such as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).
  • Body Weight and Physical Activity: Being overweight or obese, especially after menopause, and leading a sedentary lifestyle may increase your risk of breast cancer.
  • Reproductive History: Factors such as early onset menstruation, late onset menopause, late age at first full-term pregnancy, and never having been pregnant can affect your breast cancer risk.
  • Alcohol Consumption: Regular and excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Environmental and Lifestyle Factors: Exposure to environmental pollutants, smoking, and certain dietary factors may influence breast cancer risk.
  • Family History: A history of breast cancer or other gynecological cancers such as ovarian and uterine cancer in close relatives (especially first-degree relatives like mother, sister, or daughter) can elevate your risk, particularly if cancer occurs at a young age or in multiple family members.
  • Medical History: Previous breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases (e.g., lobular carcinoma in situ) can increase risk.
  • Breast Density: If you have dense breast tissue, you have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than people with mostly fatty breast tissue.
  • Radiation Exposure: Previous radiation treatment to the chest area (such as for Hodgkin's lymphoma) increases breast cancer risk.
  • Hormone Exposure: Long-term exposure to high estrogen and progesterone levels can increase your risk of breast cancer. This includes natural exposure to the hormones your body produces naturally during menstrual cycles and the use of combined estrogen and progesterone hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause.

A breast cancer risk assessment cannot predict if you’ll get cancer over the course of your life, but it can alert your provider of the risk factors that could contribute to your chances of a diagnosis. The GW Cancer Center’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool is not intended to replace the evaluation of your healthcare professional.