The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Family History of Breast, Ovarian or Prostate Cancer

A family history of certain types of cancer can increase your risk of breast cancer.

This increased risk may be due to genetic factors (known and unknown), shared lifestyle factors or other family traits.

Female family members with a history of breast cancer

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease.

About 13-16 percent of women diagnosed have a first-degree female relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer [139].

A woman who has a first-degree female relative with breast cancer has about twice the risk of a woman without this family history [139-143]. If she has more than one first-degree female relative with a history of breast cancer, her risk is about 2-4 times higher [139-141].

Age at family member’s breast cancer diagnosis

In general, the younger the relative was when she was diagnosed, the greater a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer [28,141-142].

For example, a woman whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer before age 40 has about twice the risk of a woman without this family history [10]. For a woman whose mother was diagnosed at an older age, the increase in risk isn’t as high.

Male family members with a history of cancer

History of breast cancer

A history of breast cancer in a close male relative (father, brother or uncle) increases your risk of breast cancer [28].

History of prostate cancer

A history of prostate cancer in one or more first-degree relatives (father or brother) may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, especially if the prostate cancer was found at a young age [144-145].

Although we don’t know exactly why a family history of prostate cancer might increase breast cancer risk, some inherited gene mutations increase the risk of both cancers [146-147].

Learn more about inherited gene mutations and breast cancer risk.

Inherited gene mutations

The breast cancer risk linked to family history may be due to inherited gene mutations or shared lifestyle factors (or other family traits) that increase risk.

Families with a strong history of breast cancer often carry gene mutations. Such families may have:

  • More than one first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer
  • A female relative diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age
  • A male relative diagnosed with breast cancer at any age
  • A family history of ovarian cancer

Inherited gene mutations account for 5-10 percent of breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. [4,28].

Learn more about inherited gene mutations and breast cancer risk.

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For a summary of research studies on inherited genetic mutations and breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.

Breast cancer screening for women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer

There are special breast cancer screening guidelines for women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

If you have a greater than 20 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer based mainly on your family history of breast or ovarian cancer, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends you get a [148]:

  • Clinical breast exam every 6-12 months, but not before age 21
  • Mammogram every year, starting 10 years younger than the youngest breast cancer case in your family, but not before age 30
  • Breast MRI every year, starting 10 years younger than the youngest breast cancer case in your family, but not before age 25

Genetic testing

The NCCN recommends seeing a genetic counselor to discuss genetic testing if you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer that may be due to an inherited gene mutation that increases the risk of these cancers.

The NCCN encourages genetic testing before getting a breast MRI as part of breast cancer screening. If you are found to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, or if you don’t wish to get testing, follow the recommendations above.

If you are found to have a different gene mutation related to breast cancer, it’s recommended you follow the screening guidelines for people with the specific gene mutation.

This medical care helps ensure if breast cancer does develop, it’s caught early when the chances of survival are highest.

Learn about breast cancer screening recommendations for women who have a BRCA1/2 gene mutation and those who have a first-degree relative with a BRCA1/2 gene mutation, but have not personally been tested

Learn more about breast cancer screening recommendations for women at higher risk.

Learn more about breast cancer screening recommendations for men at higher risk.

Talking with your health care provider

If you have a family history of breast or other type of cancer, your health care provider can help you understand how this impacts your risk of breast cancer.

Susan G. Komen®‘s My Family Health History Tool

My Family Health History tool is a web-based tool that makes it easy for you to record and organize your family health history. It can help you gather information that’s useful as you talk with your doctor or genetic counselor.

Learn more about talking with your health care provider.

People with limited information on family medical history

You may not know your family medical history.

Risk assessment tools such as the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool (Gail model) can estimate your breast cancer risk without this information. However, it will be less accurate without your family history details.

Talking with your health care provider about other risk factors for breast cancer can help you learn about your risk even if you don’t have information on your family medical history. 

 

SUSAN G. KOMEN®‘S BREAST SELF-AWARENESS MESSAGES

 

1. Know your risk

2. Get screened

3. Know what is normal for you and see a health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes (see images):

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

4. Make healthy lifestyle choices

 

Download Komen’s Breast Self-Awareness Messages card for more information.

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