10 August 2022

A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of getting a disease, such as cancer. There may be misconceptions regarding the causality of risk factors for cancer development. Thus, a critical issue in discussing risk factors is to ensure that this term is defined in a precise and consistent manner. Here are three statements that best represent risk factors.

  1. Risk factors often influence cancer development, but most do not directly cause cancer.
  2. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer.
  3. Others with no known risk factors develop cancer.

Categories of Risk Factors

Risk factors are presented individually. However, each risk factor can be dependent on another. For example, a sedentary lifestyle will cause weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. To better understand this, risk factors are categorised into five types.

  • Behavioural

    – Lifestyle habits that strongly influence health are behavioural risk factors. It includes practices like the use of tobacco, alcohol consumption, diet, physical activity, and sexual engagement.

  • Physiological

    – The current state of an individual’s body relates to physiological risk factors. They are often influenced by a combination of other types of risk factors. Examples include obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol levels.

  • Demographic

    – These are independent factors concerning your profile, such as age, sex, nature of work, and race. This is an uncontrollable risk factor.

  • Environmental

    – The condition of the surroundings where you reside or are exposed. It includes living arrangements, access to clean water and proper hygiene, pollution, and climate type.

  • Genetic

    – Grandparents, parents, and children often share similar health problems. If a specific disease runs in your family, you may have inherited factors that put you at risk. Features of family history that increase risk are:

    • one or more immediate relatives with a medical condition
    • a relative diagnosed with a medical condition at an early age
    • a relative with a disease that is rare in a particular sex (e.g. female with heart disease)
    • a combination of diseases running in your family (e.g. diabetes and heart disease)

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Studies show that your risk for breast cancer is a combination of factors. The known risk factors of breast cancer are listed below.

1. Sex

Breast cancer is a commonly associated disease in women. It is common in women because it originates from the cells lining the milk ducts and glands.

2. Age

The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Most women who are diagnosed are at least 40 years old and above. However, younger women may also develop this cancer.

3. Family history

Your risk increases if you have relatives with a history of breast cancer. Specifically, your risk increases:

      • twice, if you have one first-degree female relative mother, sister, or daughter
      • five times higher than average, if you have two first-degree relatives diagnosed with breast cancer
      • if your brother or father has been diagnosed, though researchers are not sure how much higher
      • if you inherit an abnormal gene, such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene

4. Reproductive History

A woman’s reproductive history can also be a risk factor. It includes:

      • conceiving your firstborn child after the age of at least 30 years
      • early onset of menstruation (below the age of 11)
      • late menopause (of at least 55 years)

5. Being Overweight

You are at a higher risk if you are obese or overweight, especially after menopause. This factor also increases the risk of cancer recurrence in women who have had the disease.

6. Hormonal Intake

Most types of hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) increase the risk of breast cancer. However, the risk is higher for those using combined HRT, which uses both oestrogen and progesterone. Taking HRT for one year or less only slightly increases the risk.

Prevention of Breast Cancer

You can take preventive actions to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. These lifestyle changes include:

  • frequent exercise
  • maintaining ideal weight through physical activity
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • limiting postmenopausal hormone therapy


Risk factors may or may not indicate the presence of breast cancer. However, it is recommended to go for regular screening and consult a gynaecologist early if you feel unwell.