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High Risk

High Risk-body

Some women have a higher than average risk of getting breast cancer. This group includes:

  • Women who have inherited a breast cancer mutation
  • Women with a family history of breast cancer
  • Women with atypical hyperplasia
  • Women with a personal history of breast cancer
  • Women who have a Gail risk score of 1.66 or higher 
  • Women who have dense breasts

This section explains each of these general risk factors in more detail.  Learn more about risk and risk reduction options for high-risk women.

Women who have inherited a breast cancer mutation are at higher than average risk for developing breast cancer

Between 5 and 10% of all breast cancer cases occur in women with a genetic mutation. Not everyone with the gene will develop breast cancer, but those who inherit it will have a higher risk. 

Women with a family history of breast cancer are at higher than average risk for developing the disease.

Women who have been diagnosed with atypical hyperplasia are at higher than average risk for developing breast cancer.

Approximately one in five women who have a mammogram over the next 10 years will require a biopsy to further investigate a suspicious area. About four percent of these women will be found to have an increased number of highly abnormal-looking cells, a condition called atypical hyperplasia. These women have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The breast cancer may develop in either breast, not just the one that was biopsied.

Women with a personal history of breast cancer are at higher than average risk for developing a new cancer.

A woman with cancer in one breast has a three- to four-fold increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different from a recurrence (return) of the first cancer. This means that in a group of 100 women who have had breast cancer, 15 to 20 would be expected to develop a new breast cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.

Women who have a Gail risk score of 1.66 or higher have a higher than average risk for developing breast cancer.

The breast contains ducts, glands, fibrous connective tissue, and fatty tissue. Breasts that are dense or very dense have a lot of fibrous, connective tissue and less fatty tissue. While virtually all women start out with very dense breast tissue, this typically changes over time.

In 2007, researchers reported findings that suggested breast density not only made it harder to find cancers, but was also was as an independent predictor of breast cancer risk.

Breast Cancer research can be difficult to understand. When trying to understand the outcomes of scientific studies that typically use statistical methods, there are many unfamiliar terms that can be overwhelming.

There are three kinds of risk commonly referred to when discussing breast cancer: absolute risk, relative risk, and attributable risk.

There are many options for high-risk women including:

High-Risk Breast Cancer Screening Programs 

A number of medical centers have established high-risk breast cancer screening programs to help identify and monitor women at high risk for developing breast cancer. Women often need to be referred to one of these centers by their primary care physician or ob/gyn.

Is it true that adolescent girls can develop breast cancer? I just read an article about a 14-year-old girl who was said to have the disease.

While in rare instances a teenage girl may have to have surgery to remove a lump from her breast, it is virtually unheard of for that lump to be breast cancer. The lumps that these girls have are not the type of tumor that becomes breast cancer but are either juvenile fibroadenoma or cystosarcoma phyllodes.