Concern for Family Members
People who’ve had breast cancer are often concerned about their family members’ risk of breast cancer.
Most women diagnosed with breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, your family members, especially your sisters, daughters and mother may have an increased risk of getting breast cancer [142-144].
Men in your family, especially your brothers, sons and father, also have an increased risk of breast cancer .
These increased risks are likely due to inherited gene mutations, but may also be due to 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 [102,143-146].
Risk tends to be highest in families where 2 or more close family members (mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son) have had breast or ovarian cancer [102,142,145-146]. 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 family’s risk and can refer you to a genetic counselor.
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’s useful as you talk with your doctor or genetic counselor.
Learn more about family history and breast cancer risk.
Learn about 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 inherited 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 and your family about the risks, benefits and other issues to consider.
In most cases, the person with cancer is tested first.
- If no mutation is found, the cancer was unlikely due to an inherited gene mutation included in the test.
- If a high-risk gene mutation is found, other family members who are 18 or older can be tested for the specific gene mutation. Younger family members may choose to wait until they are older to be tested, depending on their risk of breast cancer, personal preferences or life situation.
What does a high-risk inherited gene mutation mean for my family?
Just because one person in the family has an inherited gene 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’ll have the same mutation (you get half of your genes from your mother and half from your father).
Sharing your genetic test results with family members gives your adult children and other family members the option of getting genetic testing to learn more about their own risks of cancer.
Learn more about genetic testing.
What to tell close family members (sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and parents)
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 health care provider about breast cancer risk.
Learn more about breast cancer in men.
Learn more about inherited gene mutations and cancer risk.
Read our perspective on the use of risk-lowering drugs.*
Breast cancer screening for your sisters, daughters and mother
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.
Breast cancer screening for your brothers, sons and father
Breast cancer screening is only recommended for some men at higher risk due to an inherited gene mutation. 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.
Read our perspective on breast cancer in men.*
Healthy behaviors for all family members
Healthy lifestyle choices may be linked to a lower risk of some cancers and other conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Although not all the behaviors listed below are linked to a lower 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. People who’ve had breast cancer and 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. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. Include dark green, red and orange vegetables and legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas and soy foods.
- Choose 100 percent whole grain foods such as 100 percent whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, millet and quinoa.
- Eat “good” fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats). These are found in foods such as olive and canola oil, nuts and natural nut butters, avocados and olives.
- Limit or avoid red meat and processed meat, such as beef, bacon and sausage. Choose chicken, fish or beans more often.
- Limit or avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. Choose water or unsweetened beverages more often.
- Limit or avoid highly processed foods and refined grain products, such as fast food, ready-to-heat foods, snack foods and candy.
- Avoid alcohol. For those who choose to drink alcohol, limit to less than 1 drink a day for women and fewer than 2 drinks a day for men.
- Quit smoking (or never start smoking).
Note: Being physically active, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and to a lesser degree, eating fruits and vegetables and not smoking are linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. Other guidelines are good for your overall health and may help lower the risk of other types of cancer.
Adapted from the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Breast Cancer Survivorship Care Guidelines and the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking [4,147].
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.
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