Breast Cancer and Family History

If you have a family member who has had breast cancer, it is only natural to be concerned about what this might mean for you. Many people assume that a relative’s diagnosis increases their own chance of breast cancer, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Since breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with 1 in 7 women developing it at some point in their lives, it’s possible for more than one family member to be diagnosed. This means that many people will have relatives who have suffered from the disease by chance. 

If you are concerned about family history and would like to find out if you are at increased risk, you can book to see your GP who will take your family history and may refer you to a family history risk assessment clinic. 

You may be at increased risk if: 

  • Your mum or sister has been diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40 
  • You have two close relatives from the same side of the family, for example, your mum, sister or daughter who have had breast cancer 
  • You have three close relatives who have had breast cancer at any age 
  • Your mum or sister has had breast cancer in both breasts with the initial cancer occurring before the age of 50 
  • You have one close relative, again your mum, sister or daughter who has had ovarian cancer and one close relative who has breast cancer at any age 
  • Your dad or brother has had breast cancer at any age 

In the clinic a specialist nurse will take your personal and family history and assess your risk. If you are found to be at increased risk, you may be offered a referral for genetic testing. Most breast cancers do not run in families but the BRAC1 and BRAC2 genes, among others, can be hereditary and be passed on to children. These genes can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. If your risk is raised, you may be offered early screening or preventative treatments.  

However, even if you are offered testing on the NHS, you may choose not to have it. You should be offered genetic counselling beforehand to help you make the decision. It’s important to know what to expect if you have the test and consider how you may feel about the results. Some people may feel less anxious if they know they are more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer and make lifestyle changes to lower their risk. They may also choose to have regular screening and preventative treatment while other people may rather not know. Some people may find a high risk result causes long term anxiety and choose to only deal with cancer if it actually develops. It’s a very personal decision and one you may need time to think about. As always, our nurses are here to help. If you would like to discuss your family history concerns, we are only a phone call away.