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Health Information

Who is at Risk for Breast Cancer?

All women have a risk for developing breast cancer, but there are several risk factors that increase a woman’s chances for developing breast cancer.

  • Personal History of Certain Breast Changes - Having a diagnosis of atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or having two or more breast biopsies for other benign conditions may increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Personal History of Cancer - Women who have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer in the past are at a higher risk of having cancer again in the future.
  • Family History of Cancer - Having a close relative - a mother, sister, or daughter - who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer, particularly before menopause, can increase the chances of developing cancer. Having several relatives with similar types of cancers can also increase these risks.
  • Personal or Family History of a Breast Cancer Gene Change - Women who carry certain gene alterations (BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations) can have a significantly increased risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers, often occurring at an early age.

Managing Risk

While no one can control every type of risk factor, for women identified at increased risk, prevention, screening, and early detection are the best ways to help reduce these risks.

A tailored plan for addressing breast cancer risks may include:

  • Increased surveillance (observation)
  • Lifestyle modifications
  • Chemoprevention
  • Preventative surgery

Genetic Counseling and Testing

Although most breast cancers occur in women who do not have a strong family history of the disease, about 10% are linked to a genetic predisposition for the disease. 

As advances in the understanding of the causes of breast cancer continue to develop, researchers have identified certain genes that, when altered or mutated, increase a woman’s risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer. In particular, women who have an alteration in the genes called the BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) have a significantly increased chance (up to an 85%) for developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer (up to a 45%). 

Genetic counseling can help women explore their family histories and understand the impact genetics may have on their cancer risks. Depending on their personal or family history, some women may decide to have specific genes studied.

Genetic testing information may help a women learn whether or not she has an increased likelihood of developing certain cancers or whether inherited factors have contributed to her family’s history of cancer.

Internet Resources

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