Concern for Family Members
People who’ve had breast cancer are often concerned about their family members’ risk of breast cancer.
Most people 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 close relatives (mother, father, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons) may have an increased risk of getting breast cancer [153-156].
The increased risk may be 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 [111,154-156].
Risk tends to be highest in families where 2 or more close family members (mother, father, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons) have had breast cancer, ovarian cancer or prostate cancer [111,153,155,157]. In these families, the history of breast cancer may be 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 can help you gather information that’s useful as you talk with your family members, doctor or genetic counselor.
Learn more about family history and breast cancer risk.
Learn about genetic testing after a breast cancer diagnosis.
Sometimes a strong history of breast cancer in a family is due to an inherited gene mutation that increases risk.
People with a 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 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 and benefits of genetic testing as well as 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 BRCA1 gene mutation, there’s a 50% chance you’ll inherit the mutation and a 50% chance you won’t. Your mother has two BRCA1 genes, one with a mutation and one with no mutation. You get one of your two BRCA1 genes from your mother and it’s random which copy you get. (You get the other BRCA1 gene 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.
Family members with certain high-risk gene mutations have special breast cancer screening recommendations (and possibly screening recommendations for other cancers). They may also have risk-lowering options for breast cancer (and possibly other cancers).
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 personal 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.
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 doesn’t lower the chance of getting breast cancer, it increases the chances of finding it early, when there are more treatment options and 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 a BRCA1 or BRCA2 (BRCA1/2) inherited gene mutation. For these men, screening may increase the chances breast cancer is found early, when the chances for survival are highest.
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).
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight. (People with breast cancer who are overweight or obese should limit high-calorie foods and beverages and increase physical activity to help with weight loss.)
- Eat at least 2½-3 cups of vegetables and 1½-2 cups of fruit every day. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. Include dark green, red and orange vegetables as well as legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas and soy foods.
- Choose 100% whole grain foods such as 100% 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 avocado oil, nuts and natural nut butters, olives and avocados.
- Limit or avoid red meat and processed meat, such as beef, bacon and sausage. Choose chicken, fish or beans more often for good sources of protein.
- 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, packaged 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).
Adapted from the American Cancer Society’s Diet and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Prevention, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and the American Cancer Society/American Society of Clinical Oncology Breast Cancer Survivorship Care Guideline [1,158-159].
* Being physically active, reaching 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 be linked to a lower risk of other types of cancer.
A registered dietitian may use the term “nutrient density” when discussing diet. This is the balance of nutrients and calories in the foods and beverages you eat and drink. Nutrient dense foods have vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, with limited saturated fat, added sugars and salt.
Learn more about diet and breast cancer.
Learn more about healthy behaviors and breast cancer risk.
Learn more about a healthy lifestyle and breast cancer survival.
*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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