Does Breast Cancer Run in Families?

In yesterday’s blog we told you about the genetics of breast cancer, but: DID YOU KNOW: breast cancer can run in families, even when there is no evidence of the BCRA gene?

Genetics & a Family History of Cancer

A family history of certain types of cancer can increase your risk of breast cancer. This increased risk may be due to genetic factors (known and unknown), shared lifestyle factors or other family traits.

Only about 13 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a first-degree female relative (mother, sister or daughter) who also have breast cancer.

A woman whose mother or sister has breast cancer is almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as someone who has no family history of the disease. If more than one first-degree female relative has been diagnosed with, the risk is about three to four times higher.

Interestingly, the younger your relative was when she was diagnosed, the greater your chance of getting breast cancer. For example, if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer before she turned 40 you have about twice the risk of a woman without a family history.

If you are wondering about your breast cancer risk, you also need to look at the medical history of your male relatives. Breast cancer in a close male relative, such as a brother, father or uncle, increases your risk of breast cancer.

Other hormone-related cancers such as prostate cancer are also relevant. If your father or brother has prostate cancer, especially if it was diagnosed at a young age, then your risk for breast cancer increases.

Find out more here }

Why do we give you this information? It is certainly not to scare you! We believe that if you know about your risks, you will be aware of the need for the regular screening which could save your life. #knowledgeispower 

–> If you would like to read an academic paper on familial risks, we can recommend this one.


What about genetics?

This painting  of Angelina Jolie is by talented local artist Marc Alexander. You can see more of his work at
This painting of Angelina Jolie is by talented local artist Marc Alexander. You can see more of his work at

What is genetics?

Genetics is the study of genes.  Genes make us who we are and make a tumour behave the way it does.

How are geneticists involved in the management of breast cancer?

Each individual person is made up of genes which determine what colour eyes we have, how tall we are and many other factors that make us individuals.  Sometimes, they influence how susceptible we are to cancer.  In the case of breast cancer, there are several abnormalities that may occur on genes which make the individual more likely to get breast cancer.  The commonest ones are the BRCA mutations.

Women with BRCA mutations have a very high life long risk of developing cancer.  Depending on which mutation it is, the risk may be between 50-80%.  Different mutations carry risks of other malignancies.

Angeline Jolie recently made the headlines when she told the world that she carried a BRCA mutation and had made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy.  I am sure her decision to have the surgery and go public about it took a lot of courage and has inspired many other women however the it is important to emphasise that the diagnosis of a BRCA mutation does not necessarily mean that a bilateral mastectomy should be done.

There is an alternative to bilateral mastectomy, which is secondary prevention.  Screening is an example of secondary prevention.  Imaging can be used to detect disease at an earlier stage and so minimize the chances of spread of the disease.  Generally, breast screening refers to screening mammography, which should start until the 40s or 50s.  However, if a woman carries a BRCA mutation and doesn’t want surgery, she should have MRI screening as well as a mammogram.

The cancer itself also has its own genetic make up and that will be discussed in another blog.

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