Risk Factors

Learning about the risk factors associated with breast, ovarian and prostate cancers is crucial to being able to take control of your health.

What is cancer?

The human body is made up of billions of cells, which frequently renew themselves. Cell renewal is normal and is the process of growing new cells to replace old ones that get destroyed once the new cells are made. Cell renewal happens for a variety of reasons. Cancer begins when cells in the body stop renewing or growing at the normal rate and start to grow in an uncontrolled way.

We all have genes to help our cells keep the rate of cell renewal and growth at the normal rate. However sometimes these genes can stop working properly and sometimes it disrupts the process that keeps cell growth in check. Once cells begin to grow out of control, this is the first step in the process of a cancer developing. The factors that cause these genes to stop working are largely unknown but in most cases is not due to factors we inherit from our parents.

Cancer is not a single disease with a single type of treatment. There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

How common is breast, ovarian and prostate cancer?

The first thing to know is that most women do not develop breast or ovarian cancer. The lifetime risk of breast cancer for most women in Australia is less than 1 in 8 (12.5%). Ovarian cancer is rarer. For most women, their lifetime risk is less than 1 in 80 (1.2 %). Breast cancer is very rare in men (lifetime risk is about 1 in 1000). Prostate cancer in men is 1 in 16 (5.9%).

Personal health history

Personal health history includes a past history of cancer in yourself as well as some types of benign (non-cancerous) conditions. It is best to speak with your doctor about whether any factors in your past health affect your risk of cancer. For example, if you have had breast cancer already, this affects your future risk of a new breast cancer. Some types of benign changes in the breast (but not most cysts) can increase your risk of breast cancer risk – it depends on the detail of what has been found.

Know your risk tool

Pink Hope developed a simple to use online risk assessment tool that could help you understand your personal risk and discuss it with your healthcare team. Know your risk tool.

Breast, ovarian and prostate cancer risk factors

A risk factor is any factor that is associated with increasing someone’s chances of developing a certain condition, such as cancer. Some risk factors are modifiable, such as lifestyle or environmental risk factors, and others cannot be modified, such as inherited factors and whether someone in the family has had cancer.

Breast cancer risk factors
Ovarian cancer risk factors