How At Risk For Breast Cancer Are You?

I don't know about you, but to be honest, my breasts aren't really that notable to me; they're just a part of my body that kind of hang out in front, NBD. Maybe, though, I should be focusing on them a little more than I do. Like many women, I could probably afford to spend a bit more time considering whether I'm at risk for breast cancer. But hey, there's good news: The non-profit organization Bright Pink has developed a simple online assessment tool geared towards helping us figure out how high our risk factor is for breast and ovarian cancer — so even if you're not totally up on your family medical history, now you've got an excellent place to start.

Created by Lindsay Avner in 2007, Bright Pink is dedicated to educating both women and medical professionals about the factors that might play into how great your risk is of developing breast or ovarian cancer. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime — but although we're all probably familiar with the standard advice of getting enough exercise, not overdoing it on booze, and making regular visits to your doctor in order to reduce your risk, we're often not already familiar with our baseline. How likely are we as individuals to develop either breast or ovarian cancer?

That's where Bright Pink's risk assessment tool comes in. In a friendly, easy-to-operate format, it asks you 19 questions about everything from who you are to what habits you keep and from your family history to when you got your first period. There's a history of breast cancer in my family, so I know I'm already potentially at risk — but I decided to give the tool a whirl to see what else might be affecting my risk level. Here's a sample of the sorts of questions you'll answer:

1. The Requisite Hardware

I've got 'em both, so the answer is yes.

2. What's Age Got To Do With It?

I just turned 30, which puts me in my last year in the 20-to-30 age bracket. Time stops for no woman.

3. Immediate Family

As far as I know, my great-grandmother is my closest relative to have developed breast cancer, so I guess this one is a “none of the above” answer for me. The question following this one didn't ask about any other family members, though, so I'm not sure whether the tool is able to take it into account.

4. How Much Booze?

Typically I only drink one a day (why, yes, I am a little old lady — why do you ask?); on weekends, though, the number sometimes goes up, so let's give it a generous estimate.

5. How Much Exercise?

I work out three times a week, but I'm pretty sure I get in the additional physical activity just going about my day-to-day life.

6. Density

Nope. Although that reminds me: I'm overdue for a checkup with my OB/GYN. Note to self — schedule appointment.

7. What's Age Got To Do With It? The Prequel

I was 12 on the nose (too much information), so that puts me in the second group.

8. Safer Sex

Hmmm… this one is actually a little tricky. Technically the answer is no (I think I hit somewhere in the neighborhood of four years) — but that's because I got an IUD put in a few years ago, and since I've got the Mirena, which is hormonal, it's essentially delivering the same stuff the pill did when I was on it. Maybe I'll go with “yes” just to be on the safe side.

The Results:

According to Bright Pink, I'm about average, which means I've got about a 12 percent risk of developing breast cancer and a 15 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer. Here are a few more details:

Did the fact that not having given birth is a factor for increased risk throw anyone else for a loop? Because I actually had no idea about that one — but according to, carrying a pregnancy to full term before the age of 30 helps your breast cells fully mature in a way they don't if you haven't or never give birth. Having kids has never been terribly high on my list of priorities, and I don't think reducing breast cancer risk should necessarily be your sole reason for bringing a brand-new human into the world… but that's still both interesting and kind of frightening. Given that I'm a newly-minuted 30-year-old, I guess that proverbial ship has sailed for me.

It's worth bearing in mind that there's only so much the Internet can tell you. I was particularly struck, for example, by the fact the questions about family medical history only included immediate family members. True, my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents haven't suffered from any forms of cancer, breast or otherwise; my great-grandmother, however, did — something which is probably worth considering. And yet, there wasn't anywhere for me to input that information, so as far as the assessment tool is concerned, there's no history of cancer anywhere in my family.

That said, though, it's a good place to start. What's nice is that it tells you what you've got going both for and against you; furthermore, it offers suggestions for simple lifestyle changes you can make in order to cut your risk even more. At the end of the day, visiting a doctor is going to be the best way to check out what's really going on in your body — but knowing a what level roughly your baseline risk sits is a step in the right direction. As Lindsay Avner told Cosmo, the idea isn't to scare people, but rather to educate them and encourage behaviors geared toward prevention. “We want women to be so used to what normal looks like that when something that isn't normal appears, it will instantly jump out to them,” she said. And that? Is something from which we could all benefit.

Head on over to Bright Pink to take the test yourself.

Images: Fotolia; Lucia Peters/Bright Pink (10)