What are the main risk factors for breast cancer?

There are several different risk factors that affect whether you might develop breast cancer.

Our chances of developing the disease depend on a combination of our genes and bodies, lifestyle and life choices and the surrounding environment. But we don’t have control over some things that affect our risk.

Being female and your age are the two biggest risk factors, but unfortunately, things you can’t change.

Being female

Women are much more likely to get breast cancer than men, so simply being a woman means you are at higher risk of developing the disease.


As you get older, your risk of breast cancer increases. At least four out of five of all breast cancer cases in the UK are in women over the age of 50. The disease is uncommon in women under the age of 40.

There isn’t anything we can do about getting older. But all women should be breast aware.

Women aged 50 to 70 are eligible for breast screening on the NHS and should receive an appointment every three years.

In England the programme is being extended to include women aged 47 to 73. Women over 70 can continue to access screening by making their own appointments through their doctor or local breast screening unit.

We can’t do anything about the main risk factors for breast cancer. But there are there are other things you can change.

Find out more about the ways you can reduce your risk.

Information Standard

Information last reviewed: July 2015

Next review due: July 2018

Breast Cancer Now's health information is covered by NHS England's Information Standard quality mark. Find out how this resource was developed.