Breast cancer: risks & myths

With so much information out there, sometimes it can be difficult to determine what is and is not a genuine risk factor for breast cancer.

Sometimes you just want some straight answers, so below are eleven true factors that may increase your risk of breast cancer, and another eight which you might believe are risk factors, but are not.

By understanding the true risk factors for breast cancer you can take positive steps to reduce your risk.

Risk Factors

  1. Strong family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer
    Having a strong family history is definitely a contributing factor – ask your parents and the women in your life, on both your mum’s and your dad’s side of the family; grandmas, sisters and aunts, if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
  2. Being a woman
    While both men and women can get breast cancer, women have a much higher level of the hormones that impact the development of breast cancer. 
  3. Taking the contraceptive pill
    The news isn’t all bad here – while it is a risk factor for breast cancer, the risk diminishes once you stop taking it.
  4. Growing older
    Growing older is one of the stronger risk factors in developing breast cancer. The majority of women who develop breast cancer are 50 years or older, however, it’s worth remembering that breast cancer can occur in anyone of any age.
  5. Drinking alcohol
    We’re not saying you can’t indulge in the occasional glass of wine, but drinking more than two glasses of alcohol a day is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer.
  6. Starting menstruation early, or starting menopause late
    Starting menstruation before the age of 12 is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer due to the amount of time you are exposed to fluctuating levels of hormones. Similarly, women who experience menopause after the age of 55 have been shown to have twice the risk of developing breast cancer.
  7. Tobacco smoke
    Tobacco is the greatest preventable cause of cancer and while lung cancer is the main cancer linked to tobacco exposure, it has also been linked to breast cancer.

    Here are some other risk factors that you may not have thought about:
  8. Being overweight after menopause
  9. Not being physically active
  10. Previous breast condition
  11. Using combined hormone replacement therapy

Common Misconceptions About Breast Cancer Risks

There are also a lot of myths out there about what causes breast cancer. Take a look at some of the more commonly believed myths here:

  1. Using deodorant
    Your friends and family will thank us for this one! There is no known risk for breast cancer associated with using deodorant and keeping fresh.
  2. Bumping or bruising the breast
    This might be one you heard at school, but bumping or bruising the breast is not shown to cause breast cancer. It may, however, draw attention to an existing lump.
  3. Topless sunbathing
    While we wouldn’t recommend topless sunbathing, as it could increase your risk of skin cancer,  it does not increase your risk of breast cancer.

Here are some other myths you might have heard:

  • Implants and breast reductions
  • Child bearing
  • Breastfeeding
  • Having large breasts
  • Wearing an underwire bra

For more information on risk factors for breast cancer, visit Cancer Australia’s risk calculator: