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Family History Raises Breast Cancer Risk

Study Shows Increased Risk Even Without Gene Mutations Linked to Breast Cancer

Options for Women With Family History of Breast Cancer

The "take-away" message from the research, in which 1,492 women with first-degree breast cancer relatives were studied, is this, Metcalfe says:

"Having a BRCA mutation is the greatest risk factor for developing breast cancer. However, we still need to be very aware of a woman's family history of breast cancer, even without a mutation."

Narod adds, "Despite the negative test [for the BRCA mutations], women are not in the clear."

He says he recommends that women without the BRCA mutations who have three or more relatives with breast cancer should undergo MRI screenings and consider taking tamoxifen. The findings do not call for preventive surgery -- removal of the breasts -- but he says some women may wish to consider that option.

"I think we have to take tamoxifen more seriously as a society" as a preventive measure, Narod tells WebMD. "You can reduce the risk from 40% to 20% -- pretty dramatic figures. Any woman at 40% risk of breast cancer should seriously consider it."

But researchers say they aren't ready yet to recommend that all women with family histories of breast cancer get tested for the BRCA genes.

"It is a personal decision about whether or not to have genetic testing," Metcalfe says. "However, for women with a family history of breast cancer, genetic testing can offer information about their personal risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. And if a woman is found to have [the BRCA genes], options are available to significantly reduce their risk of cancer."

Metcalfe says the Toronto study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's 7th annual International Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research meeting in Washington, should make high-risk women more knowledgeable about their options.

"My opinion, if you're at high risk, take tamoxifen or raloxifene, go for an annual MRI screening, but more study is needed," Metcalfe says.

Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and gynecologic cancer for the American Cancer Society, says it's important for women with a family history of breast cancer but no genetic markers to know they "are still at increased risk. That's significant."

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