Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer in women and represents the second leading cause of cancer death among women (after lung cancer). The etiology of breast cancer is still poorly understood with known breast cancer risk factors explaining only a small proportion of cases. Risk factors that modulate the development of breast cancer discussed in this review include: age, geographic location (country of origin) and socioeconomic status, reproductive events, exogenous hormones, lifestyle risk factors (alcohol, diet, obesity and physical activity), familial history of breast cancer, mammographic density, history of benign breast disease, ionizing radiation, bone density, height, IGF- 1 and prolactin levels, chemopreventive agents. Additionally, we summarized breast cancer risk associated with the following genetic factors: breast cancer susceptibility high-penetrance genes (BRCA1, BRCA2, p53, PTEN, ATM, NBS1 or LKB1) and low-penetrance genes such as cytochrome P450 genes (CYP1A1, CYP2D6, CYP19), glutathione S-transferase family (GSTM1, GSTP1), alcohol and one-carbon metabolism genes (ADH1C and MTHFR), DNA repair genes (XRCC1, XRCC3, ERCC4/XPF) and genes encoding cell signaling molecules (PR, ER, TNFalpha or HSP70). All these factors contribute to a better understanding of breast cancer risk. Nonetheless, in order to evaluate more accurately the overall risk of breast tumorigenesis, novel genetic and phenotypic traits need to be identified.