Breast Cancer and Menopause

What factors increase your risk?


Menopause itself is not associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. However, the rates of many cancers, including breast cancer, do increase with age.

In addition, some of the drugs used to manage menopausal symptoms may increase or decrease a person’s cancer risk.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

Certain factors increase the risk of developing breast cancer. However, having many risk factors does not mean women will develop breast cancer, and having no risk factors does not mean they will not develop the disease.

Age is the single-most important risk factor for breast cancer.

The chances of developing the disease increase with age. About 95% of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over age 40, and about half are age 61 and older.

Personal risk is also greater if an immediate family member (mother, sister, or daughter) has had breast cancer, particularly if it was at an early age.

Also, women who have had a breast biopsy (removal of breast tissue) that shows certain types of benign disease, such as atypical hyperplasia, are more likely to get breast cancer.

Key risk factors

– Having cancer in one breast (may recur or develop in other)

– Having a history of ovarian, uterine, or colon cancer

– Having a genetic abnormality such as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation

– Late menopause (after age 55)

– Starting menstruation early in life (before age 12)

– Having a first child after age 30

– Never having children

– Being overweight or obese after menopause

– Being oestrogen dominant – ie more oestrogen than progesterone

Does HRT Increase the Risk?

Evidence suggests that the longer women are exposed to female hormones (either made by the body, taken as a drug, or delivered by a patch), the more likely they are to develop breast cancer.

The longer women are on HRT with a combination of oestrogen and synthetic progestin, the greater their chances may be of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

It is unclear if HRT with oestrogen alone, which is sometimes prescribed for women who have had a hysterectomy, increases the risk of breast cancer.

Bioidentical hormones however have not been associated with any increased cancer risk, in fact the reverse as progesterone balances the excess oestrogen associated with hormonal cancers.

Can I Prevent It?

While there is no definitive way to prevent breast cancer, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

– Ensure your hormones are balanced so you have progesterone and oestrogen in the correct ratios in the body.

– Maintain a healthy weight.

– Be physically active and get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise five or more days per week.

– Eat a healthy diet with at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily; limit the amount of processed meat and red meat eaten.

– Women should drink no more than one alcoholic drink daily

– Have regular breast self-exams and any change should be reported promptly to a doctor.

Helpful information: 

Being vigilant, careful with diet and exercise, and good hormone balance can all be key factors in how you deal with breast cancer risk.

Fortunately the discovery, and early treatment, of breast cancer has greatly improved.

The overall 5-year relative survival rate for breast cancer is 90%. This means 90 out of 100 women are alive 5 years after they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. The 10-year breast cancer relative survival rate is 84% (84 out of 100 women are alive after 10 years).

However when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage (there is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the breast), the 5-year relative survival rate is 100%.