What is a Breast Cancer Risk Assessment?

With the rise of breast cancer rates, a breast cancer risk assessment is a great way to become more proactive about your health.

A breast cancer risk test is a simple questionnaire or survey that analyzes a person's demographics, medical history, and family history of breast cancer, and then gives the person a score regarding their chance for developing breast cancer.

While these types of assessments are only preliminary, its goal is to help identify at risk women and help them begin taking steps.

The most widely used survey is the Breast Cancer Risk Tool, developed by the National Cancer Institute. This is an interactive survey that calculates a woman's risk of developing breast cancer within the next five years, based on a number of risk factors.

Those risk factors include age, ethnicity, personal history of breast cancer, age of first period, age when their first baby was born, number of breast biopsies, and number of first-degree relatives having had breast cancer.

Women at high risk of breast cancer may be sent to take a mammogram

Take the Test

The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool is only seven questions long:

  • Question 1:
    Does the woman have a medical history of any breast cancer or of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)?
    The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool cannot calculate a score for women with a history of breast cancer. Answering "yes" to this question ends the assessment.
  • Question 2:
    What is the woman's age?
    The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. The great majority of breast cancer cases occur in women older than age 50. The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool only calculates risk for women 35 years of age or older.
  • Question 3:
    What was the woman's age at time of her first menstrual period?
    Research has shown that women who had their first menstrual period before age 12 have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. This is because these women have been exposed to the hormone estrogen for longer periods of time. High estrogen levels have been linked to developing breast cancer.
  • Question 4:
    What was the woman's age at her first live birth of a child?
    Research has shown that women who are older than 30 when they give birth to their first child have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who have never given birth.
    The risk of breast cancer also declines with the number of children born. Women who have given birth to five or more children have half the risk of women who have never given birth.
    Longer duration of breastfeeding: Breastfeeding for an extended period (at least a year) is associated with a decreased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Question 5:
    How many of the woman's first-degree relatives (mother, sisters, daughters) have had breast cancer?
    Having one or more first-degree relatives who have had breast cancer increases a woman's chances of developing breast cancer.
  • Question 6:
    Has the woman ever had a breast biopsy?
    6a: How many previous breast biopsies (positive or negative) has the woman had?
    6b: Has the woman had at least one breast biopsy with atypical hyperplasia?
    Women who have had breast biopsies have an increased risk of breast cancer, especially if their biopsy specimens showed hyperplasia. Breast biopsies themselves do not increase the risk of developing cancer.
  • Question 7:
    If known, please indicate the woman's race/ethnicity.
    Current statistics show that white women had the highest rate of getting breast cancer, followed by black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
The result of a mammogram, a detailed scan of the breast tissue

Finally, at the end of the health assessment, a percentage is given of the person's risk of developing breast cancer within the next five years.

This percentage is also compared to the average percentile to help gauge the severity of the person's risk.

The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool cannot replace physical examination of the breast and routine breast exams. It should serve only as a tool to help a person estimate their risk of developing breast cancer within the next five years. The complete Breast Cancer Risk Assessment can be taken here.

Breast cancer can be one of the hardest cancers to detect, and often times, when finally found, it has spread to other locations.

Usually, the only symptoms with breast cancer, if any at all, are a lump in the breast, changing size of the breast, bloody discharge, or a skin change in the breast area.

However, these symptoms don't occur every time, which is why breast cancer risk assessments, self-exams, and mammograms are extremely important.

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