Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk and Prevention at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Photo of Judy Garber, MD, MPHClinic director Judy Garber, MD, MPH

All women are at risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer over their lifetimes. However, some women have greater risk. It is now possible to identify some of the factors that place a woman at higher risk of breast cancer. Fortunately, there are also more and more ways to help reduce breast cancer risk, even among women with the greatest chance of developing the disease.

Factors proven to be associated with higher breast cancer risk include reproductive factors (late age at first pregnancy, early age at beginning of periods), and hormonal factors (blood levels of female hormones after menopause, long duration of hormone replacement therapy after menopause). Women with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer in close relatives at young ages have heightened breast cancer risk, especially if an altered breast/ovarian cancer gene is found in a relative or the woman herself. Recent data also has shown that women who have certain findings on breast biopsy have increased subsequent breast cancer risk.

Unfortunately, it is also possible for women to develop breast and/or ovarian cancer without having any of the above risk factors. For this reason, we recommend that all women follow established recommendations for breast health — regular exercise, maintenance of healthy body weight, minimize alcohol intake, and have regular monitoring and screening as recommended by age.

Some other cancers may occur along with breast cancer in women and their family members. Men may rarely have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

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