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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Family Poor Predictor of Breast Cancer

Study Shows Family History May Not Be So Useful in Predicting Breast Cancer Risk

Family History of Breast Cancer continued...

Women with only one first-degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50 were not found to be at increased risk for developing breast cancer early in life.

The researchers concluded that women with none of these family risk factors or just one of them had a very small risk of developing breast cancer early in life and would probably not benefit from genetic testing or intensive early screening.

At the population level, risk was still relatively low for women with two or more family risk indicators.

"Due to the low prevalence of early breast cancer in the population, the predictive value of family history of breast cancer was 13% before the age of 70, 11% before the age of 50, and 1% before the age of 30," de Bock notes in a press statement.

Many Women Overestimate Risk

The findings suggest that most women with a family history of breast cancer have little to worry about.

That comes as no surprise to Debbie Saslow, PhD, who is director of breast and gynecologic cancers for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

"Even a woman who is 35 with a mother who had breast cancer in her 30s and an aunt who had it in her 40s may be just borderline high risk," she tells WebMD. "You really do have to have a significant family history to be considered high risk."

Assessing family-related breast cancer risk is very complicated, and Saslow recommends seeking the help of a medical professional who has experience with risk-assessment tools.

The ACS also recommends that women who are considering genetic testing first talk to a genetic counselor, nurse, or doctor qualified to explain and interpret the test results.

Saslow agrees that many women may be overestimating their breast cancer risk based on family history.

She adds that companies that promote genetic testing for breast cancer may be part of the problem.

"Some of these companies recommend that anyone with even one relative who had breast cancer before the age of 50 should be tested," she says. "That is just not justified."

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