High Risk

Understanding Your Risk for Breast Cancer

All young women should stay vigilant about their breast health. This is especially important for some young women who have a high risk for breast cancer.

Resources on this page will help you better understand what it means to be at high risk, learn to protect your own health and connect to other young women at high risk. To learn more about risk factors, family history and how to lead your healthiest life, check out YSC’s Breast Health and You guide.

What are Your Risk Factors?

Doctors use the term “risk factor” for anything that increases your chances of getting a disease. For example, smoking raises a person’s risk for several cancers, including lung cancer.

Several risk factors affect breast cancer, including being female, having certain types of abnormal but non-cancerous cells found through biopsy and beginning your period before age 12. Visit the National Cancer Institute for complete listing of risk factors for breast cancer.

Having a risk factor—or even several—doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get a disease—it just increases your chances. It is possible for people with cancer risk factors to remain healthy all their lives. Remember that most people who get cancer don’t have any presently known risk factors at all.

Family History and Genetics

Family history and genetics are two risk factors for breast cancer. While researchers continue to search for the definite causes of breast cancer, some consider young women at high risk for breast cancer if they have either or both:

  • a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer. This could mean two or more relatives with breast or ovarian cancer, a relative with both breast and ovarian cancer, a male relative with breast cancer or a relative diagnosed at a young age with breast cancer.
  • genetic mutations associated with breast cancer. These include mutations to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that normally help control cell division. Genetic counselors can help you understand your risks, your family history and the implications of getting genetic testing. Find more details on our hereditary breast cancer page.

More Information: For more in-depth information about family history and genetic mutations, visit our hereditary breast cancer pages. You may also want to visit two organizations dedicated to high risk breast cancer, Bright Pink and Facing Our Risk Empowered.

Managing Your Health

Once you understand your risk, you’ll be in better position to take control of your own health. All young women should take breast cancer seriously—especially those at high risk. Young women need to:

  • Understand the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Read our understanding breast cancer pages or download our The Facts brochure for more information.
  • Become familiar with your breasts. Know what is normal for you.
  • Learn to spot differences—and tell your doctor immediately if you discover any changes in your breasts.
  • Find more resources to help you protect your own health here.


If you would like to talk young women affected by breast cancer, you can connect to YSC’s network of support through our: