Originally reviewed by Beth Crawford, MS, CGC, September 5, 2000
Updated by Scott Cole, January 13, 2011
DNA tests are now available
for some of the genetic mutations associated with breast and ovarian cancer, your family's medical history still provides one of the best predictors of your own level of risk and the best starting point for determining whether you have inherited
a predisposition to either type of cancer. As you begin
your research, ask yourself the following questions.
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes"
then you may be at increased risk for cancer:
any of your female relatives developed breast cancer
before they reached menopause,
or before the age of 50?
anyone in your family been diagnosed with ovarian
- Has anyone in your family been diagnosed with both breast and ovarian cancer, or with multiple cancers?
- Are there clusters, or patterns, of certain types of cancer among close relatives? (In addition to breast and ovarian cancer, other types of cancer may suggest the presence of a hereditary cancer syndrome).
a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer
puts you at high risk for these diseases, and having
a mutation in one of the genes
associated with these diseases (BRCA1
and BRCA2) is the strongest risk factor you can have.
If there was nothing you could do to halt or prevent cancer, understanding your risk for the disease might not be important. In fact, such knowledge might only add to your anxiety. However, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk for both breast and ovarian cancer, particularly if you are in the high-risk group. This includes more intensive screening, as well as surgical or chemical prevention.
are a number of things you can do to reduce your
risk for both breast and ovarian cancer, particularly
if you are in the high-risk group your risk.
Also, because many women overestimate their risk especially for breast cancer for them, learning that their family's cancer history does not put them at a significantly increased risk for either disease can come as a huge relief.
If someone from your family specifically, a biological relative has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, there is a chance you may have inherited a gene from one of your parents that puts you at increased risk for the disease as well. In that case, your best course of action is to speak with your doctor and/or a genetic counselor.