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Who Gets Breast Cancer?

Updated September 27, 2010

Anyone with breast tissue can get breast cancer—even men. Women of all ages, including very young women in their 20s or 30s, can develop breast cancer. But your risk increases with age, so the older you are, the more likely you are to develop breast cancer.

People of all ethnicities get breast cancer. Women with different lifestyle habits and from different walks of life develop breast cancer. Women with breast cancer can be fit or overweight, vegetarians or meat-eaters, regular exercisers or “couch potatoes.”

What all people with breast cancer have in common are “bad copies,” or mutations, in the DNA of their breast cells. DNA makes up the genes of a cell. It carries a set of directions that tell cells when to grow and how to stop growing.

These mutations can come from your mother or father at birth. More often, these mutations develop at some point in your life. Some people are more likely to develop a mutation because cancers run in the family. Others have been exposed to certain things during their lives that make them more likely to get a mutation. We are still learning about the causes of these mutations and why people get them.

Breast cancer is less common in women whose menstrual periods started at a later age, whose menopause started early, who breast fed, who had children before age 30, who exercise and who are not overweight. But even these traits do not prevent breast cancer—they only give you some protection from developing it. Nothing can completely protect you.

You may be asking yourself, “Why me? What did I do to bring on this breast cancer?” Your questions are a reasonable response to the shock of diagnosis. There is no single cause of breast cancer. There is nothing that you did or missed doing that caused you to develop breast cancer. Over time, either on your own or with family and friends, you may find your own answer to this difficult question.

Read more about breast cancer basics and the providers who helped us write this page in our Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.

Denver, CO  ·  September 13, 2014

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