Family history and Genetics
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, although most women with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Nevertheless, a family history of breast cancer can mean an increase in the risk of its development. To know whether you are at risk of familial breast cancer, you must first understand the different risk levels. If you’re concerned about your family history of breast cancer, you may be able to have a family history risk assessment. A family history risk assessment will try to find out if you are at general population, moderate or high risk of breast cancer.
The first step is to talk to a healthcare professional.
You should be referred for further assessment of your risk if you or one close relative has had breast cancer before the age of 40, or you or one close relative has had breast cancer in both breasts (bilateral breast cancer), certain breast cancers known as triple negative will also need to be assessed in a specialst invironment. other reasons for referral to the family history asessment includes multiple relatives, close relatives with ovarian cancers, and having a close relative with bvreast cancer who is a male.
At the appointment you’ll be asked about any type of cancer in all your blood relatives on both sides of your family. This includes your mother and father, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, grandparents, great uncles and great aunts
Levels of Breast Cancer Risk
There are three levels of breast cancer risk: general population risk, moderate (familial) risk, or high (hereditary) risk.
1) General Population Risk: Women who are at general population risk have an 11% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Risk of breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancer develops after the age of 50. Women who are aged between 50 and 70 are advised to attend routine breast screenings.
2) Moderate Risk: Women who are at familial breast cancer risk (or moderate risk) have a higher chance of developing breast cancer at a younger age compared with women at general population risk. Statistically, women who are at moderate risk will have a 3 to 8% chance of developing breast cancer between the ages of 40 and 50. Women with a moderate risk have a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer of greater than 17% but less than 30%.
3) High Risk: Women with a high risk have a 30% or greater chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Women who fall in the category of high risk typically have several members of their family who have developed breast cancer over several generations. Naturally, this causes them to have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to the general population, however it is still not a certainty. If you’re considered to be at high risk of developing breast cancer, have a complex family history or if further investigation into your family history would be helpful in understanding your risk, you will be offered a genetic counselling appointment at a regional genetics centre.
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Genetics and Risk-reduction
Genetic counselling can help you understand the factors that can increase your risk of breast cancer. It is possible to inherit genes that can greatly increase the risk of breast cancer, such as a variant BRCA gene (pronounced as bracca). Therefore, you may undergo a BRCA test to discover whether you have inherited one of these variant genes. It must be stressed, however, that the result of such a test does not guarantee the inevitability of breast cancer; it merely provides an indicator of susceptibility.
Risk-reducing surgery is also available, particularly for women at high risk, although this will depend upon the patient’s physical condition and individual needs. Risk-reducing surgery (also known as a risk-reducing mastectomy) removes healthy breast tissue to significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer development. Some women opt for breast reconstruction surgery alongside the operation. For more information on the importance of breast cancer awareness and how it can save lives, please visit our blog.
At Suffolk Breast Practice, we endeavour to provide you with the highest quality of care and advice, from initial consultation to any follow-up service, which is paramount. We understand that breast cancer is an emotional subject, which is why we offer a non-judgemental and impartial service that is sensitive to your needs as a patient. Please feel free to book a consultation with us by contacting us here.