Family History and Breast Cancer

Your mother never had breast cancer. Her mother never developed cancer either. As far as you know, none of the women in your family were ever diagnosed with breast cancer. While that’s great news, you shouldn’t assume that you are in the clear. Any woman can develop breast cancer even if she does not have a family history of the disease.

What does your family history tell you about your risk for breast cancer?

Only a small percentage of breast cancer is hereditary. Approximately five to 10 percent of women who have breast cancer have an inherited form of the disease.

Having a family history of breast cancer does not mean that you will develop the disease; not all people with cancer-disposing genes develop breast cancer. A family history of breast cancer does dramatically increase the risk that a woman will develop the disease, however.

Knowing this information is crucial in establishing a proper care plan and protecting against breast cancer. Learning your risk for breast cancer can shift the odds in your favor.

Learning your risk for breast cancer

No one is immune to breast cancer. You can develop the disease with or without a history of breast cancer in your family. Knowing your personal risk for breast cancer lets you take the appropriate steps to stay ahead of the disease.

Start by learning if any of your relatives have had breast cancer. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer if they have a first-degree female relative that has breast cancer.

All women should have a breast cancer risk assessment starting at age 25, or the first time they meet with a breast health specialist.

Physicians recommend genetic testing for some patients:

  • Patients with multiple relatives who have breast or ovarian cancer
  • Patients with two first-degree relatives with breast cancer
  • Women with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry or a male in the family with breast cancer.

A breast cancer risk assessment helps you and your healthcare provider develop a care plan that meets your specific needs.

For example, women at average risk for breast cancer should begin annual screening mammograms at age 40, but women at higher risk may need breast MRI or mammography sooner. Women with dense breasts should consider breast ultrasound in addition to annual screening mammograms.

Don’t make assumptions about your health. Talk to the breast specialists at The Breast Center and make informed health decisions. Call 479-442-6266 for an appointment.