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What are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer in Young Women?

Though breast cancer affects fewer than 7% of women under 40 years of age, there are still several risk factors that could lead to breast cancer in young women. They include a previous bout with cancer, a family history of the disease, genetic defects, and a Gail Index score of over 1.7%. Other contributing factors could be race, obesity, and lifestyle issues such as high consumption of red meat and alcohol. A history of extensive radiation therapy can also be a risk factor for breast cancer in young women.

A previous family history of breast cancer is one of the most prominent high risk factors for breast cancer in young women. The risk is even higher if a close relative, such as a mother, sister, or daughter, had the disease. Young women who have already had cancer, another disease of the breast, or high risk lesions on the chest have a greater likelihood of developing breast cancer.

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Medical tests can also help to uncover some of the risk factors for breast cancer in young women. Genetic defects can indicate a higher risk for cancer. If a woman is found to have a mutated BRCA2 or BRCA1 gene — which are genes thought to suppress tumor growth — she is more likely to get the disease. The Gail Index evaluates a range of risk factors, including family breast cancer history, number of breast biopsies, and age of first menstruation and pregnancy, in order to determine a percent score. If a woman has a Gail Index score of 1.7% or higher, she is at an increased risk for getting breast cancer within the next five years.

Several external elements can be risk factors for breast cancer in young women. Women who have had extensive radiation therapy around the chest area are at a higher risk of contracting breast cancer. Lifestyle choices such as excessive consumption of alcohol and red meat can also increase the odds of a young woman getting the disease. Obesity, and particularly carrying excessive weight in the waist, can contribute to the risk for breast cancer.

Race can be a breast cancer risk factor for all ages of women. White, non-Hispanic women have the highest reported rate of contracting the disease. While African American women show a lower incidence of breast cancer, they have the highest rate of death from the disease. This is primarily due to the fact that a high percentage of African American women do not seek treatment until it is too late to treat the disease.

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