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Family History and the Risk for Breast or Ovarian Cancer

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What is a BRCA gene change? continued...

In the table below, the figures are only rough estimates from research studies. Lifetime risk means the chance that you will get this cancer sometime during your life. These numbers may not apply to you, but they can give you an idea of how high your risk may be.

How does having a BRCA gene change affect your lifetime risk?


Breast cancer risk

Ovarian cancer risk

Average women

About 12 out of 100 women will get breast cancer.

About 1 out of 100 women will get ovarian cancer.

BRCA gene carriers

About 35 to 84 out of 100 will get breast cancer.

About 15 to 40 out of 100 will get ovarian cancer.5

In the table above, the range for BRCA gene carriers is very broad. That's because different studies have had different results. More study is needed to get a clearer idea of what the risk is for women who have a BRCA gene change.

Pictures may help you understand these numbers better. See the following pictures to get a better idea of how much a BRCA gene change increases your risk for:

If you are worried that you may have a BRCA gene change, talk to your doctor.

Breast Cancer Risk: Should I Have a BRCA Gene Test?

How can you find out what effect your family history has on your risk?

The best way to find out is to see your doctor. Your doctor will ask you for as much information about your relatives as you can give (for example, what kind of cancer they had, if any; how old they were when they were diagnosed; and, if they have died, how old they were when they died).

People often don't have a lot of information about all of their relatives. The more you can find out, the better your doctor can help you figure out how strong your family history is.

Your doctor may send you to a genetic counselor, who can help you learn how high your cancer risk is. After counseling, you may decide to have a BRCA gene test.

The discovery of a genetic disease that isn't causing symptoms now (such as breast cancer or Huntington's disease) should not affect your ability to gain employment or health insurance coverage. A law in the United States, called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), protects people who have DNA differences that may affect their health. This law does not cover life insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance.

Finding out how high your risk is can help you make important decisions about your health. Some women decide to take extra steps to prevent breast and ovarian cancer, such as having checkups more often, taking anti-cancer medicine, or having surgery to remove the breasts, the ovaries, or both.

Breast Cancer: What Should I Do if I'm at High Risk?
Ovarian Cancer: Should I Have My Ovaries Removed to Prevent Ovarian Cancer?

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 24, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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