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Breast Cancer and Family History

Both men and women are at risk for developing breast cancer, there’s a genetic factor that predisposes you to a high-risk category of developing the disease. 

Knowing your family history and taking advantage of advanced genetic counseling and testing resources gives you more information about your options.


The first and most important step in screening for breast cancer is having an annual mammogram. Even if cancer doesn’t run in your family and you have no genetic predisposition to developing breast cancer, having a regular mammogram is vital. 

Not all breast cancers can be detected by a manual exam. There’re often symptoms. Early detection is key to getting proper treatment — and if an abnormality is detected, getting treatment so that it doesn’t metastasize, or spread, to other areas.

Genetic counseling

Genetic counseling can be invaluable in determining your risk for breast cancer. Cancers can — and do — run in families. 

A genetic mutation can be passed down through the generations and, even if that gene did not cause cancer in other family members, doesn’t mean it will always remain that way. Five to 10% of cancers are the result of a genetic component. 

When you go through genetic counseling, even if the gene is present, it does not mean that you will develop cancer. It gives you an important piece of information so that you and your healthcare provider can be vigilant. 

You’ll be armed with knowledge that helps you lower your risk of developing cancer and increases early screenings. Eliminating cancer-causing activities — like smoking — also becomes vital if you have a genetic predisposition.

Family history for breast cancer

Having a detailed family history is also helpful for your healthcare providers. The following indicates a family history for breast cancer:

  • Several biological family members having the same cancer
  • A family member who has had more than one type of cancer
  • A family member with a rare cancer such as ovarian or male breast cancer
  • A family member with cancer under the age of 50
  • You are in an ethnic group with a higher risk of having a mutation

Breast cancer risk assessment

There are risk assessment questions that your healthcare provider can ask to that better assesses your risk for developing breast cancer. These include:

  • Your age
  • Your ethnic group
  • Your weight and height
  • The date of your first period
  • The date of your last period or the date of menopause if applicable
  • If you’ve had children and your age at the birth of your first child
  • How many alcoholic drinks you have each day
  • If you smoke, vape or use tobacco or nicotine in any form
  • Have any women in your family had breast cancer? If so, who?
  • Have you had ovarian or uterine cancer?
  • Have you been told you have certain gene mutations related to breast cancer?
  • Have you had hormone therapy due to menopause?
  • Do you currently take hormone-based birth control in any form?

Genetic counseling and risk assessments a help determine your risk factors for developing breast cancer. No matter the results, there’s no guarantee that you will or won’t develop it.

These are tools that help you and your healthcare provider develop a plan to better ensure that you take the steps you need to stay in good health or detect any abnormalities at an early stage. For more information, visit tanner.org.

Tanner Health System, Cancer Care, Breast Care

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