Breast Cancer 101

Understanding the Impact of Family History on Breast Cancer Risk

Family History Information

Breast cancer is a serious health concern for women and one of the most common cancers in the world. While there are several risk factors associated with breast cancer, having a family history of the disease is a significant one that can increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. In this article, we will discuss the impact of family history on breast cancer risk and the importance of seeking additional breast screening for women with a strong family history of the disease.

Why Does Breast Cancer Family History Matter?

The family health history of a patient is an essential aspect of medical history as it provides valuable information about the patient’s health risks. Family members often share genetic material, lifestyles, and behaviors that can increase the likelihood of developing certain health conditions and diseases, including breast cancer. Having a detailed family history of a patient can help healthcare providers to determine the patient’s risk of developing breast cancer and other health conditions.

What Should a Patient’s Family Health History Include?

To obtain a complete family health history, a patient should provide information on biological relatives dating back three generations. This record should include a history of past and present health conditions with which family members have been diagnosed, ages at the time of diagnosis, and ages at their time of death, including causes of death. With this information, healthcare providers can assess a patient’s risk of developing breast cancer and other health conditions.

Breast Cancer Family History

A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer increases if she has biological relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or if she has family members with known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), women who are considered at high risk for early-onset breast cancer include those who:

  • Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Have a first-degree relative* (parent, brother, sister or child), second-degree relative (aunts, uncles, nieces or grandparents), or third-degree relative, which includes first cousins, with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Have a lifetime risk of breast cancer or 20% or greater, according to risk assessment tools (such as the Tyrer-Cuzick)
  • Had radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30 years
  • Have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or have first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes.

*Risk is higher with more than one affected first-degree relative and/or if the affected relative was diagnosed at a young age.

Additional Breast Screening for Women with a Family History of Breast Cancer

Due to the increased risk associated with a family history of breast cancer, The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends screening for women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation or a first-degree relative with has BRCA1/2 mutation, even if the patient has not been tested for BRCA1/2 mutations. The NCCN recommends that women at high risk get a mammogram and a breast MRI starting at age 25 to 40, depending on the type of gene mutation and/or youngest age of breast cancer in the family. The NCCN also suggests that women at high risk have clinical breast exams every 6 to 12 months beginning at age 25. These women should also consult with a health care provider to learn how to identify changes in their breasts. The ACS recommends that women at high risk should have a mammogram and breast MRI every year.


A family history of breast cancer can significantly impact a woman’s risk of developing the disease. By understanding the importance of family history in assessing breast cancer risk, women can take proactive steps towards early detection and treatment. Women with a strong family history of breast cancer should discuss additional breast screening options with their healthcare providers to ensure optimal breast health.

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment at Breastlink

At Breastlink, we believe knowledge is power. We want to help you better understand your personal risk for developing breast cancer, so that you can make the best lifestyle choices and health care decisions to promote your breast health.

Our comprehensive risk assessment program is designed to provide you knowledge of your personal risk factors and is covered by most insurance plans. Visit our Risk Assessment Program.




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