The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool is an interactive tool. Scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) developed it so you can estimate your risk of developing invasive breast cancer. It’s essentially a breast cancer risk calculator.
Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer in women after skin cancer. Regular mammograms help detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, but there are many risk factors to consider. That’s why women are using the breast cancer risk calculator to help assess their risk.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer, the tool is not for you. The calculator is a test, of sorts, made up of 8-10 questions. Your answers will determine your risk. So, let’s take a look at the 8 basic questions you will need to answer as part of the breast cancer risk calculator and why they are part of the assessment.
The first question on the breast cancer risk calculator will be tied to your medical history. Do you have a medical history of any breast cancer or have you received previous radiation therapy to the chest for treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma?
Do you have a mutation of the BRCA1 Or BRCA2 gene or a diagnosis of a genetic syndrome that may put you at an elevated risk for breast cancer?
The average lifetime risk of breast cancer for women is about 12%. But if you test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2, your risk of developing breast cancer in your lifetime is between 40 percent and 85 percent.
What is your age? Your risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. The majority of breast cancer cases occur in women older than age 50.
How old were you at the time of your first menstrual period? If you had your first menstrual period before age 12, you have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.
How old were you when you gave birth for the first time? There is a relationship between your age at the time of your first live birth and your family history. For women with 0 or 1 affected relative, your risks increase with age at your first live birth. If you’re a woman with 2 or more first-degree relatives, your risks decrease with age at first live birth.
A strong family history is one of the critical risk factors for breast cancer. You’ll be asked on the risk calculator: How many first-degree relatives have had breast cancer?
If you have one or more first-degree relatives who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk of developing the disease goes up. First-degree relatives include:
There are other hereditary conditions that may also increase your risk. More specific tests like “The Gail Model” are used to evaluate these risks. Unfortunately, The Gail Model has only been shown to provide accurate estimates of breast cancer risk in white women.
The breast cancer risk calculator will want to know if you’ve ever had a breast biopsy.
A breast biopsy is a test that removes tissue or fluid from a suspicious area. Breast biopsies themselves don’t cause cancer. But if you have a history of breast biopsies, you’re at an increased risk because of whatever breast changes prompted the biopsies.
Your race or ethnicity can influence your risk of developing breast cancer, so the breast cancer risk calculator takes this into account.
But keep this in mind. Researchers built the original Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool on data from white women. So they’re conducting additional studies, including studies on minority groups, to collect more data and increase the accuracy of the tool.
Another thing to remember. The breast cancer risk calculator can be updated periodically as new data or research becomes available. And although a woman's risk may be accurately estimated, these predictions do not allow one to say precisely which woman will develop breast cancer. In fact, you may have a higher risk estimate than other women your age, but never develop breast cancer.
If you’d like to use the breast cancer risk calculator, here’s a link to the National Cancer Institute’s website. And if you think you may be at risk your best defense is a mammogram. Early detection is critical in the fight against breast cancer, so if you’d like to learn about some other ways to decrease your risk, download our guide: “What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer at Any Age”.