Risk Factors

Hereditary cancers occur due to an underlying genetic mutation passed down in a family. These mutations account for approximately 5-10 percent of observed cancers. However, the remaining cases of cancer can be attributed to environmental risk factors or a combination of environment and genetics. Different cancers have been associated with different risk factors.

Learn more about hereditary cancers.

Breast Cancer

The general population risk for female breast cancer is about 12 percent; for male breast cancer it is less than one percent. Approximately 5-10 percent of female breast cancers and 10-20 percent of male breast cancers are hereditary. Other breast cancers may have underlying environmental causes or may be due to a combination of environment and genetics.

Some common risk factors for breast cancer are:

  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Certain benign breast conditions
  • Hormonal factors
  • Reproductive and breast feeding history
  • Prior radiation to chest
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Obesity

*This is not a comprehensive list of risk factors associated with breast cancer.

Speak to your genetic counselor or your doctor for more details about these risk factors and protective factors that might reduce the risk for breast cancers, as well as screening and preventive options.

Colorectal Cancer

The general population risk for colon cancer is about five percent for men and women. Approximately five to six percent of colon cancers are hereditary. Other colon cancers may have underlying environmental causes or may be due to a combination of environment and genetics.

Some common risk factors for colorectal cancer are:

  • Personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • History of type 2 diabetes
  • History of smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diet rich in red meats
  • Heavy alcohol use

*This is not a comprehensive list of risk factors associated with colorectal cancer.

Speak to your genetic counselor or your doctor for more details about these risk factors and protective factors that might reduce the risk for colon cancers, as well as screening and preventive options.

Renal (Kidney) Cancer

The general population risk for renal cancer is about 1.6 percent for men and women. Approximately one to two percent of renal cancers are hereditary. Other renal cancers may have underlying environmental causes or may be due to a combination of environment and genetics. These are some common risk factors for renal cancer:

  • Family history of renal cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain medications
  • Advanced kidney disease
  • Certain workplace exposures
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

*This is not a comprehensive list of risk factors associated with renal cancer.

Speak to your genetic counselor or your doctor for more details about these risk factors and protective factors that might reduce the risk for renal cancers, as well as screening and preventive options. 

Ovarian Cancer

The general population risk for ovarian cancer is about one to two percent for women. Approximately 10-24 percent of ovarian cancers are hereditary. Other ovarian cancers may have underlying environmental causes or may be due to a combination of environment and genetics.

Some common risk factors for ovarian cancer are:

  • Family history of ovarian cancer
  • Estrogen therapy and hormone therapy
  • Fertility drugs
  • Reproductive and breast feeding history
  • Obesity
  • Diet rich in red meat and fats

*This is not a comprehensive list of risk factors associated with ovarian cancer.

Speak to your genetic counselor or your doctor for more details about these risk factors and protective factors that might reduce the risk for ovarian cancers, as well as screening and preventive options. 

Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer

The general population risk for endometrial cancer is about 2.7 percent for women. Approximately three to five percent of endometrial cancers are hereditary. Other endometrial cancers may have underlying environmental causes or may be due to a combination of environment and genetics.

Some common risk factors for endometrial cancer are:

  • Family history of endometrial cancer
  • Hormonal factors
  • Menstrual and reproductive history
  • Tamoxifen therapy
  • Endometrial hyperplasia
  • Prior pelvic radiation therapy
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Obesity
  • Personal history of diabetes
  • Diet rich in fats

*This is not a comprehensive list of risk factors associated with endometrial cancer.

Speak to your genetic counselor or your doctor for more details about these risk factors and protective factors that might reduce the risk for endometrial cancers, as well as screening and preventive options.

Thyroid Cancer

The general population risk for thyroid cancer is about 1.1 percent for men and women. Approximately five percent of bone medullary thyroid cancers and 25 percent of medullary thyroid cancers are hereditary. Other thyroid cancers may have underlying environmental causes, or may be due to a combination of environment and genetics.

Some common risk factors for thyroid cancer are:

  • Family history of thyroid cancer
  • Head or neck radiation exposure
  •   A diet low in iodine

*This is not a comprehensive list of risk factors associated with endometrial cancer. 

Speak to your genetic counselor or your doctor for more details about these risk factors and protective factors that might reduce the risk for thyroid cancers, as well as screening and preventive options.

Prostate Cancer

The general population risk for prostate cancer is about 14.2 percent for men. Approximately 5-10 percent of prostate cancers are hereditary. Other prostate cancers may have underlying environmental causes or may be due to a combination of environment and genetics. 

Some common risk factors for prostate cancer are:

  • Family history
  • Some risk factors such as obesity, smoking, prostatitis, and vasectomy have been suggested to increase the link for prostate cancer. However, a definite association has not been proven.

*This is not a comprehensive list of risk factors associated with prostate cancer.

Speak to your genetic counselor or your doctor for more details about these risk factors and protective factors that might reduce the risk for prostate cancers, as well as screening and preventive options.

Pancreatic Cancer

The general population risk for pancreatic cancer is about 1.5 percent for men and women. Approximately 5-10 percent of pancreatic cancers are hereditary. Other pancreatic cancers may have underlying environmental causes, or may be due to a combination of environment and genetics.

Some common risk factors for pancreatic cancer are:

  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • H. pylori infection
  • Exposure to certain occupational chemicals

*This is not a comprehensive list of risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer.

Please speak to your genetic counselor or your doctor for more details about these risk factors, protective factors that might reduce the risk for pancreatic cancers, as well as screening and preventive options.