Breast Cancer Risk: Playing the Age Game

March 8th is International Women’s Day 2020. 

You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted statistic that one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her. However, what you may not realize that the risk of breast cancer is highly variable depending on your age.

Specifically, the average risk of breast cancer by age is:[1]

  •    Age 30 . . . . . .  0.48% (or 1 in 208)
  •    Age 40 . . . . . .  1.53% (or 1 in 65)
  •    Age 50 . . . . . .  2.38% (or 1 in 42)
  •    Age 60 . . . . . .  3.54% (or 1 in 28)
  •    Age 70 . . . . . .  4.07% (or 1 in 25)

Here’s another way to look at it. About 438,000 women in the US were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2012 and 2016. Of those:

  • 9% were aged 20–34 years
  • 4% were aged 35–44 years
  • 1% were aged 44–55 years
  • 6% were aged 55–64 years
  • 8% were aged 65–74 years
  • 7% were aged 75–84 years
  • 6% were aged 84 years+

The median age at diagnosis is 65 in white women and 59 in black women, which means that half of women diagnosed with breast cancer will be younger and half will be older.[2]

However, your own risk may be higher or lower depending on your genetic profile, family history, lifestyle, weight, age when you started menstruating, number of children you gave birth do, breast density, and other parameters. You can find a complete list of risk factors here.

You can assess your own risk with the National Cancer Institute’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, which uses your personal medical and reproductive history and the history of breast cancer among your first-degree relatives to estimate your absolute breast cancer risk, which means the likelihood that you’ll develop invasive breast cancer within a certain age interval.

The good news is that thanks to regular screening with mammography and improved treatments, nearly 90 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer will still be alive five years after their diagnosis.1 That’s a pretty amazing statistic!

Since your risk increases with age, peaking by age 75, screening guidelines also differ by age. The American Cancer Society recommends annual screening between ages 45 and 54. Women 55 and older can switch to screening every other year. Other organizations recommend starting regular screening at age 50.

So, as you think about International Women’s Day, remember that individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.  Take action no matter your age and get screened. 

Talk to your doctor about the best screening schedule for you based on your own personal risk factors – including your age.


[1] National Cancer Institute. Breast Cancer Statistics. Available at:

[2] American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2017 and 2018.

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