By now you may be familiar with the statistic that says 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer. Many people misinterpret this to mean that, on any given day, they and the women they know have a 1-in-8 risk of developing the disease. That’s simply not true.
In reality, about 1 in 8 women in the United States — 12%, or about 12 out of every 100 — can expect to develop breast cancer over the course of an entire lifetime. In the U.S., an average lifetime is about 80 years. So, it’s more accurate to say that 1 in 8 women in the U.S. who reach the age of 80 can expect to develop breast cancer. In each decade of life, the risk of getting breast cancer is actually lower than 12% for most women.
People tend to have very different ways of viewing risk. For you, a 1-in-8 lifetime risk may seem like a high likelihood of getting breast cancer. Or you may turn this around and reason that there is a 7-in-8, or 87.5%, chance you will never get breast cancer, even if you live to age 80. How you view risk often depends on your individual situation — for example, whether you or many women you know have had breast cancer, or you have reason to believe you are at higher-than-normal risk for the disease — and your usual way of looking at the world.
Even though studies have found that women have a 12% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, your individual risk may be higher or lower than that. Individual risk is affected by many different factors, such as family history, reproductive history, lifestyle, environment, and others.
For more information on understanding breast cancer risk and risk factors, visit the Lower Your Risk section of Breastcancer.org.
This section is designed to help you better understand breast cancer risk and some of the factors that can increase risk.