Understand Risk

There are three categories of risk for breast and ovarian cancer, with different recommended screening and risk reduction measures for each. Just remember, no matter which category you fall into, there’s always something you can to do be proactive and reduce your risk.


Average Risk

Just by being a woman, you have a 12% chance of getting breast cancer and a 1.3% chance of getting ovarian cancer. Essentially, all women are at least at Average Risk.

Women who fall in the Average Risk category have:

  • No significant family history of breast or ovarian cancer

  • No genetic predisposition to cancer (e.g. diagnosed gene mutation such as BRCA1 or BRCA2)

  • Never had an abnormal breast biopsy finding

  • While the chance of developing breast cancer is smaller for women at Average Risk, it’s important to know that this group accounts for approximately 75% of all breast and ovarian cancers that do occur. You can’t exempt yourself from a proactive lifestyle just because you aren’t in the Increased- or High-Risk categories. Risk-reduction and early detection practices are important for all women, no matter the level of risk.

If you're a woman, you're at risk.

TigerTiger-5719Increased Risk

Women of increased risk have up to a 25% chance of getting breast cancer and up to 5.5% chance of getting ovarian cancer—more than double that for Average Risk. Those in this category usually have a family member with a history of breast or ovarian cancer, and sometimes more than just one relative on the same side of the family.

Women are considered to be in the Increased-Risk group if they have:

  • At least one first degree relative with breast or ovarian cancer

  • History of an abnormal breast biopsy result

  • History of radiation treatment to the chest (for a disease such as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma)

  • A diagnosed gene mutation associated with breast and/or ovarian cancer that does not yet have formal management guidelines (such as PALB2 or CHEK2) and is associated with a lower lifetime risk than BRCA1 or BRCA2

  • Knowing that you’re a woman at increased risk is an opportunity to be proactive and make decisions that can have a positive impact on your health. It’s important that women in this category develop an appropriate risk management strategy that incorporates increased or earlier screening. You may also want to consider genetic counseling if you’ve not yet taken this step.

    Learn more about risk-reduction and early detection steps recommended for women at increased risk.

High Risk

Women of high risk have up to an 87% chance of getting breast cancer and up to 54% chance of getting ovarian cancer in their lifetime. These numbers are dramatic. They illustrate why it’s so important for women who are at high risk to identify and understand their risk and collaborate with a doctor on a personalized risk management strategy.

Women in the High-Risk category have:

  • A hereditary breast or ovarian cancer syndrome (most frequently caused by a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, though there are others, such as Lynch syndrome)

  • A first-degree relative with one of these syndromes, if the woman herself has not yet had genetic testing to rule out the mutation in herself

  • It is critical for high-risk women in this category to start incorporating risk-reduction and early detection techniques above and beyond what is needed for the other two risk levels. If you’re at High Risk, in addition to consulting with your doctor (you can find tools to help you with that here) we also encourage you to talk to a genetic counselor, check out our High-Risk resources, and consider one-on-one peer support or group support if that feels right for you. Just remember that knowledge is power—you’ve got what it takes to make changes that can have a profound impact on your health.

    Learn more about risk reduction and early detection steps recommended for women at high risk.

So, What’s My Risk?

If you’ve not yet figured out your own personal level of risk, it’s important that you collect your family history and use the information to take our risk assessment. The sooner the better!

No matter which category you fall into, you’ve got the power to make positive and impactful changes to your life—read more about risk reduction and early detection to get started.


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