From the Breast Diaries:

How Do I Know If I’m High Risk?

If any of the following risk factors apply to you, you might be at high risk.  Talk to your doctor:

  • Do you have a family history of breast cancer (both your mother and your father’s sides count!)?  The highest risk is if you have a mother, sister, daughter, father, brother or son with breast cancer.  But other relatives–  grandparents, aunts, cousins–  are important to consider as well.
  • Have you had breast cancer yourself in the past?  If so, you have 10x the risk of the average woman for developing a new cancer.
  • Do you have dense breasts? (“What Breast Density Means To You”)  Women with extremely dense breasts have 5x greater risk for breast cancer than the average.
  • Have you ever had a breast biopsy and been told you have LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ or lobular neoplasia- 8 to 10x greater risk) or atypical hyperplasia (4 to 5x greater risk)
  • Have you had prolonged estrogen exposure in your lifetime (no pregnancies, had your first period when you were younger than 11 years old, or went through menopause after age 55)?  Have you ever taken hormone replacement therapy (HRT)?
  • Have you ever had radiation therapy to your chest?
  • Have you or a family member tested positive for the breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2)?

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has developed a quick risk assessment tool to help you estimate your lifetime risk of breast cancer.  Go to to take the quick quiz.  (Note that this tool does not take into account breast density, which is a very important factor.  The tool also doesn’t consider your father’s family history or second-degree relatives, also important.)  If the quiz tells you that you have a lifetime risk of 15% or higher, you should talk to your doctor about this as soon as possible.  You might need an MRI in addition to a mammogram each year, and you might need to be sent for genetic counseling.


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