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Gender and Age

Gender

Being a woman is one of the strongest risk factors for breast cancer.  Although rare, men also get breast cancer, with fewer than 1% of all breast cancers in Canada occurring in men.

Why is breast cancer more common in women? Women’s breast ductDuct (mammary duct):
A hollow passage for gland secretions. There are ducts in the female and male breast.
cellsCell:
The basic structural and functional unit of all organisms.
are more developed than men's, and women’s breast cells are constantly exposed to the female hormoneHormone:
A natural substance released into the body by the endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, adrenal gland or ovaries.
estrogenEstrogen:
A female sex hormone that is produced mainly in the ovaries. A woman’s levels of estrogen fluctuate throughout her life. Estrogen has been linked to the development of breast cancer and may promote the growth of cancer cells.
, which is essential to women’s normal growth, development and reproduction. Exposure to estrogen is a factor in the development of breast cancer. 

In Canada, 1 in 9 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. In 2015, an estimated 25,000 women in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer. During the same year, an estimated 220 men will be diagnosed.

Age

The risk of developing breast cancer significantly increases as women age, but women of all ages can develop breast cancer.

Eighty-two percent (82%) of new breast cancers and 91% of breast cancer deaths in Canada occur in women over the age of 50. The majority of breast cancers (52%) occur in women ages 50-69.

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Another way to look at the information is how the risk of developing breast cancer changes with age. The most recent Canadian statistics available tell us that the chance of developing breast cancer increases with age. For example, women ages 40-49 have a 1.4% chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years; for women 50-59, it increases to 2.2%, and for women 60-69 to 3.2%.  These numbers may be lower than you expected, and many women overestimate their breast cancer risk. Most women are at average risk for breast cancer. 

Age Lifetime RiskLifetime risk:
The probability of developing or dying from cancer over the course of a lifetime.
of Developing Breast Cancer
in the next 10 years (%)
30-39 0.4%
40-49  1.4%
50-59 2.2%
60-69 3.2%
70-79 3.3%
80-89 2.6%

Breast cancers in younger women who are pre-menopausalMenopause:
A natural part of a woman's aging process, when the ovaries start to make less estrogen and progesterone and the menstrual periods stop. This change typically occurs between the late 40s and mid-to-late 50s.
tend to be more aggressive, often moving quickly to advanced stagesStage:
A way of classifying breast cancer that describes how far a cancer has spread. It identifies whether breast cancer is at an early, locally advanced or metastatic stage. The stage of breast cancer can sometimes be represented as a number (e.g. between 0 and 4).
, and are less responsive to treatment than those that are found in older women.

Approximately 18% of breast cancers and 9% of all breast cancer deaths in Canada occur in women under 50 years of age. A proportion of these occur in women who are at high risk for breast cancer. The latest Canadian statistics estimate that in 2015:

  • 1,175 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women under the age of 40, representing about 5% of all new breast cancers.

  • 3,300 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women 40-49, representing about 13% of all new breast cancers.

To make an informed decision about what is right for you, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages you to learn about your breast health, being breast aware, breast cancer risk, ways to reduce your risk, and your screeningScreening:
The search for diseases such as breast cancer in people without symptoms. Mammography is an important tool for breast cancer screening and earlier detection.
options for the earlier detection of breast cancer. To inform your decisions, we also encourage you to consider speaking to a health care provider.


Sources:

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2010). Earlier Detection and Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: A Report from It’s About Time! A Consensus Conference. Toronto, ON: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. 

Canadian Cancer Society’s Steering Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2015, Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society, 2015.