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Breast Density, Age, Race, Family History Offer Best Estimate of Breast Cancer Risk

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A number of factors affect a woman's personal breast cancer risk. Some, such as how much you exercise and whether you choose to smoke, you can control. Other factors, such as your age and your breast density, you can't control.

Researchers wanted to know if certain factors were more closely associated with higher breast cancer risk. This information can help women and their doctors figure out a woman's personal breast cancer risk and develop a screening plan for her unique situation.

After reviewing more than 40 studies on breast cancer risk, the researchers determined that women with very dense breasts have a much higher risk (4 to 6 times higher) of breast cancer compared to women with breasts that are not dense. These results support earlier research. So the researchers recommend looking at:

  • breast density
  • age
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • family history

as the best way to estimate breast cancer risk for postmenopausal women.

Once a woman's risk has been determined, the researchers recommend that women at high risk take a hormonal therapy medicine, either tamoxifen or Evista (chemical name: raloxifene), to reduce risk. Both tamoxifen and Evista are SERMs (selective estrogen receptor modulators). SERMs work by blocking the effects of estrogen in the body.

The researchers recommended that all women take the following steps to lower breast cancer risk:

  • exercise daily
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • eat a low-fat diet
  • limit alcohol

These recommendations are much the same as those outlined on the Changes You Can Make to Lower Your Risk page. Making these lifestyle changes may be hard, but this page offers tips and sources of support to help you keep your risk of breast cancer as low as it can possibly be.

Editor's Note: In July 2013, the American Society of Clinical Oncology put out new guidelines on using hormonal therapy medicines to reduce breast cancer risk in high-risk undiagnosed women. Besides tamoxifen and Evista, the guidelines also recommend that doctors talk to postmenopausal high-risk women about using the aromatase inhibitor Aromasin (chemical name: exemestane) to reduce risk.

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