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Dad's Side Important in Breast Cancer History

Study Shows Women Should Pay Attention to Paternal Family History for Breast and Ovarian Cancer
By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 25, 2010 -- Health care professionals sometimes overlook a family history of breast and ovarian cancer on the father’s side of the family when evaluating a patient, suggesting that some women may miss opportunities for genetic testing and screening, according to a new study.

Jeanna McCuaig, a researcher at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, and colleagues used patient records to compare the number of patients referred with maternal and paternal family histories of breast or ovarian cancer. Women with a maternal family history of cancer were five times more likely to be referred to specialists. The findings are published today in the online edition of The Lancet Oncology.

According to the authors, 5%-10% of breast and ovarian cancer cases are due to BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Women who carry these genetic mutations face a 55% to 87% increased lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 20% to 44% increased lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.  Both men and women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have the same 50% risk of passing these genetic mutations on to their children.

“Many remain unaware that these women might have inherited the mutated gene from their father ... and might not routinely collect this information from their patients,” McCuaig and colleagues write. “Deficits in knowledge among healthcare providers and the general population about the inheritance patterns of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations could result in missed opportunities for genetic testing and cancer prevention in individuals with a paternal family history.”

Father’s Transmission of Genetic Mutations

Every year, more than 690,000 women in developed countries are diagnosed with breast cancer and 189,488 die from the disease, McCuaig and her team report. An additional 100,254 of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed worldwide each year with about 64,466 deaths. As many as 30% of women who are diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer have a family history of cancer, according to the researchers.

“With an increased awareness by healthcare providers of the potential paternal transmission of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, together with their ability to provide accurate risk assessments, fewer opportunities for cancer prevention will be missed,” McCaiug and her team write.

Elizabeth A. Poynor, MD, a gynecologic oncologist and pelvic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, notes that the study results have important implications for health care providers. “The authors of this study have demonstrated that the paternal, or father's side of the family tree may be frequently under evaluated, potentially leading to an under recognition of cancer risk in women,” Poynor says in a news release. “The study reinforces the importance of obtaining the appropriate three generation family history of cancer and other illnesses as well as the importance of educating primary care providers and women about cancer risk identification.”

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