Family History is an important factor in assessing the risks for breast cancer. Family history is taken into account with other known risk factors, such as ovarian cancer, to assess an individual's risk. During the consultation the breast specialist will ask about relatives who have had breast cancer. The significance of family history varies according to the number of relatives who have had breast cancer, their age and how closely they are related. The following risk classification is used to determine the individual's risk.
4 or more relatives with breast cancer.
One first degree relative with breast cancer aged 40 or under
One first degree female relative with bilateral cancer
One first degree male relative with breast cancer
Two first or second degree relatives diagnosed under 60 or ovarian cancer at any age
Three first or second degree relatives with breast cancer diagnosed at any age
None of the above criteria, the risk is the same as for the general population. It is important to be aware that most breast cancers are sporadic and are not associated with family history. Only about 5-10% of cases are linked with a strong family history and may have a genetic link. The two genes most associated with inherited gene abnormalities are called BRAC1 and BRAC2. If an individual has inherited this gene abnormality the risk of developing breast cancer ranges from 40-80% and the risk for developing ovarian cancer is 20-60% depending on which gene has been inherited.
Women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer may wish to discuss increased surveillance strategies such as ultrasound and increased clinical examinations
The breast specialist will advise with regard to individual risk and can make a referral to a Genetic specialist for counselling if this is required.