Breast Cancer and Genetics

Some kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, seem to run in families, so many people wonder if their genetics will increase their risk of developing this disease. Research shows that a family history of the disease is not the only reason people get cancer. If you are especially concerned, however, you may want to consider genetic testing.

An Overview of Breast Cancer and Genetics

For American women, breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. Each year, more than 180,000 women in the United States learn that they have breast cancer.
Some kinds of cancer, such as breast cancer, seem to run in families. There is a test that may tell some people if they are at risk for this kind of cancer. Before getting tested, however, there are many factors to consider.

How Genes Affect Your Risk for Breast Cancer

A woman with a significant family history of breast cancer has an increased risk of getting this cancer. You have a significant family history if:
  • You have two or more close family members who have had breast cancer
  • The breast cancer in the family members has been found before the age of 50.
A close family member can be your:
  • Mother
  • Sister
  • Grandparent (on either your mother's or father's side)
  • Mother's sister
  • Father's sister.
A close family member can also be your father, brother, or uncle, but breast cancer in men is very rare.
Your family history of cancer can be assessed by a doctor or other healthcare professional trained in genetics, who will determine if you have a significant family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer. Having this information may help you learn about your cancer risk and help you decide if genetic testing is right for you.
It is important to know that a family history of cancer does not mean that you are going to get cancer. Many things, such as family history and age, may increase a person's chance (or risk) of getting cancer, but family history alone is not the only reason people get cancer. Scientists do not know all the reasons why people get cancer.
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