Understanding High Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

What does it mean to be high risk?

A woman with a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer that is greater than 20 percent is considered to be in the high-risk category.

How do you know if you are high risk?

Some women carry a genetic mutation that elevates their risk of developing breast cancer. Your breast surgeon can perform a risk calculation using tools such as The Tyrer-Cuzick model (IBIS tool) or The Gail Model, which can determine if your lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is greater than 20 percent.

What are the most common high-risk factors?

There are a variety of factors that can determine if a woman is at a high risk for developing breast cancer. Some common factors include:

  • Genetic mutation (i.e. BRCA 1/2, PALB2, ATM, CHEK-2)
  • Atypical lesion found on biopsy
  • Dense breast tissue on mammogram
  • Family history of breast and ovarian cancer
  • Personal hormonal factors

Why is it important to know if you are at high risk for developing breast cancer?

In addition to having the option of using medications to reduce risk, women who are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer qualify for a higher level of screening, which include:

  • High risk screening (staggered at 6-month intervals)
  • Mammogram, +/- ultrasound and clinical breast exam
  • Bilateral screening MRI of the breasts with and without contrast