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

Concern for Family Members

Breast cancer survivors are often concerned about their family members’ risk of breast cancer.

Most breast cancers are not related to genes or family history. However, if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, your family members, especially sisters, daughters and mothers may have an increased risk of getting breast cancer.

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

Breast cancer risk for family members

In general, the younger you were when you were diagnosed, the more likely it is another family member will get breast cancer [122,151-152].

Risk tends to be highest in families where 2 or more immediate family members (mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son) have had breast or ovarian cancer [122,151-153]. In these families, the history of breast cancer is often due to an inherited gene mutation.

If you have concerns about your family’s risk of breast cancer, talk with your health care provider. Your provider can help you understand your risk and can refer you to a genetic counselor.

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 helps you gather information that will be useful as you talk with your doctor or genetic counselor.

Learn more about family history and breast cancer risk.

Learn about genetic testing.

Genetic testing

Sometimes a strong history of breast cancer in a family is due to an inherited gene mutation that increases risk.

People with a strong family history of breast cancer may worry about having a high-risk gene mutation and passing it on to their children. (A gene mutation can be passed on to daughters and sons.)

If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, you and some members of your family may consider genetic testing. A health care provider or genetic counselor can talk with you about the risks, benefits and issues for you and your family.

In most cases, the person with cancer is tested first.

  • If no mutation is found, the cancer was not due to a known high-risk gene mutation.
  • If a high-risk gene mutation is found, other family members can be tested for the specific mutation.

Just because one person in the family has a mutation doesn’t mean everyone in the family has the mutation. Only identical twins have the exact same genes. Other family members share some, but not all, of their genes.

For example, if your mother has a high-risk gene mutation, there’s a 50 percent chance you will have the mutation (you get half of your genes from your mother and half from your father).

Learn more about genetic testing.

What does a high-risk gene mutation mean for my family?

Just because one family member has a mutation doesn’t mean everyone in the family does. If you have a high-risk gene mutation, your children have a 50 percent (1 in 2) chance of having the mutation. Other family members may also be at risk for having the same mutation.

If a BRCA1, BRCA2 or other high-risk gene mutation is found, genetic testing is available to family members who are age 18 or older. Sharing your genetic test results with family members gives your adult children and other family members the option of getting genetic testing to clarify their own risks of cancer.

Family members with certain high-risk gene mutations have special breast cancer screening recommendations and may also have risk-lowering options.

What to tell sisters, daughters and mothers

Assessing breast cancer risk

If you have concerns about breast cancer risk, share these concerns with your family.

Family members should discuss their breast cancer risk with their health care providers.

Learn more about talking with your provider about breast cancer risk.

Learn about online tools that may help you talk with your provider about your breast cancer risk.

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Komen Perspectives

Read our perspective on the use of risk-lowering drugs
(March 2012).*

Breast cancer screening

Women with a family history of breast cancer should talk with their health care providers about when they should begin screening for breast cancer.

While screening does not lower the chance of getting breast cancer, it increases the chance of finding it early, when the chances for survival are highest.

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

What to tell brothers, sons and fathers

Assessing breast cancer risk

Although breast cancer in men is rare, male family members of breast cancer survivors have an increased risk.

The men in your family should discuss their breast cancer risk with their health care providers.

Learn more about breast cancer in men.

Learn more about inherited gene mutations and cancer risk.

Breast cancer screening

Breast cancer screening is only recommended for some men at higher risk due to an inherited gene mutation or a strong family history.

For these men, screening may increase the chances breast cancer is found early, when the chances for survival are highest.

Learn more about breast cancer screening for men at higher risk

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Komen Perspectives

Read our perspective on breast cancer in men
(June 2013).*

Healthy behaviors for all family members

Healthy lifestyle choices may help lower your risk of different types of cancer and other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Although not all the behaviors listed below lower the risk of breast cancer, they are good for overall health.

Everyone should aim to:

  • Be physically active (get regular exercise).
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Survivors who are overweight or obese should limit high-calorie foods and beverages and increase physical activity to help with weight loss.
  • Eat at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Choose 100 percent whole grain foods such as 100 percent whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, millet and quinoa.
  • Limit red meat and processed meat. Choose chicken, fish or beans more often.
  • Limit “bad” fats (saturated and trans fats). These are found in foods such as red meat, fatty deli meats, poultry skin, full fat dairy, fried foods, margarine, donuts and microwave popcorn.
  • Eat “good” fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats). These are found in foods such as olive and canola oil, nuts and natural nut butters, avocado and olives.
  • Limit alcohol intake to less than 1 drink a day for women and fewer than 2 drinks a day for men.

Note: Being physically active, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and to a lesser degree, eating fruits and vegetables may help lower your risk of breast cancer. Other factors are good for your overall health and may help lower the risk of other types of cancer.

Adapted from the American Cancer Society’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines [145,154].

Learn more about healthy behaviors and breast cancer risk.

*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time.

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