Breast Cancer and Women Under 40: What's Your Risk Right Now?

Patient Expert

We've all heard that 1 in 8 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life. But that doesn't mean your risk of breast cancer right now is 1 in 8. Understand what your risk actually is, from girlhood to middle age; and discover how you can lower it.

If you're under 20 –

Thanks to increased awareness of breast cancer driven by media coverage – think "Pink October" – many more young girls and teens are aware of the disease. However, this same group of young women is much less likely to understand their actual risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer at such an early age.

Fact is, being diagnosed with breast cancer as a teen or younger is a statistical anomaly: it's so rare that data isn't even kept for breast cancer in this age group. If you're a teen or younger – it's great to be aware of breast health, but please don't spend time stressing about cancer; that pain you feel, or even a lump, is most likely a normal part of puberty.

Read more:

Is This Normal? A Teen Guide to Breast Development

Dear Sister: a Message to Our Teenage Readers

If you're 20-29 –

As a 20-something, your risk of breast cancer is still very low. Statistically, 1 in 1,732 women between ages 20-29 will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

How can you lower your risk still further? The same way you keep yourself healthy every day: exercise, eat a good diet and don't smoke. Also, avoid binge drinking; studies show that heavy drinking in your 20s can increase your risk of breast cancer later in life.

Finally, while this may not be a step you want to take simply to lower cancer risk, having a child earlier (in your 20s) rather than later (in your 30s; or never having a child) lowers your overall lifetime breast cancer risk slightly.

Read more:

Guide to Healthy Breasts in Your 20s and 30s

If you're 30-39 –

As you get older, breast cancer risk begins to rise. During this decade of your life, your risk is 1 in 227. Still, just 5 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses come in women under age 40.

What can you do to maintain breast health during these years? Same things you did in your 20s – follow a healthy lifestyle. Pay extra attention to your weight; if it's beginning to creep up, know that being overweight later in life increases breast cancer risk. So get into the habit now of maintaining a healthy weight.

Read more:

Guide to Healthy Breasts in Your 20s and 30s

See more helpful articles:

How to Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Screening By Age

National Cancer Institute's Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool

Top 10 Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Risks and Benefits: Understanding the Statistics That Affect You

Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel_, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network. _