Having breast or ovarian cancer occur in your family increases your risk of breast cancer. It’s sad but true. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations but there’s more to it than that. There are other genes out there involved in breast cancer development that have yet to be identified. It is also important to remember more than 80% of breast cancers occur without family history.
However, if a first degree relative (mother, father, sibling or child) has had breast cancer, your risk goes up. Note it is important to know if your male relatives have breast cancer - this also affects your risk. If second degree relatives (grandparents, maternal or paternal aunts, etc) have had breast cancer, again, your risk goes up, although to a lesser degree. The number and pattern of involvement is important in addition to who is involved - a relative presenting with breast or ovarian cancer before menopause means a higher risk to you. Other cancers in your family may also be relevant as there are some syndromes with cancers including breast that run in families.
Does familial breast cancer always imply a genetic basis? No. There are other factors that may be involved, including exposures and lifestyle risks which may make breast and other cancers run in families. We have learned much about breast cancer in past decades - but the precise cause and reason women develop breast cancers is still a subject needing further study.
It’s important for families to share health histories. In older generations, it was not uncommon to hide cancers, like cancers of the breast. Not that long ago, talking about health issues in general was taboo. Today we know it’s too important to not share - silence can be deadly. So share what you know. Ask questions. Let your family know their risk. Early detection can saves lives!
Originally published 4/23/14 on mammographykc.com.