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Family History and the Risk for Breast or Ovarian Cancer - Topic Overview

What is a family history? continued...

See a picture slideshow.gif that may help you understand how much having a family history can increase your risk for breast cancer.

How does family history affect your lifetime risk for ovarian cancer?

Average women

About 1 out of 100 women will get ovarian cancer.3

1 first-degree relative with ovarian cancer

About 5 out of 100 women will get ovarian cancer.3

2 or more relatives with ovarian cancer

About 7 out of 100 women will get ovarian cancer.3

See a picture slideshow.gif that may help you understand how much having a family history can increase your risk for ovarian cancer.

Your doctor will ask about at least three generations of your family history and tell you how much it affects your risk. Your doctor may also send you to a genetic counselor, someone who is trained to help people understand their risks for certain diseases.

What is a BRCA gene change?

Sometimes a very strong family history is caused by a mutated gene that runs in the family.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that normally help control cell growth. But an inherited change, called a mutation, in one of these genes makes you much more likely to get breast and ovarian cancers. BRCA (say "BRAH-kuh") stands for BReast CAncer. A BRCA gene test is a blood test that can tell you and your doctor whether you have one of these changed genes.

Having a BRCA gene change is rare. Most women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer don't have a BRCA gene change.

Before you have a gene test, you will need to see a genetic counselor. Counseling will help you make an informed decision about whether to have a BRCA gene test. It is often covered by insurance, but check with your insurance company to find out for sure.

Ashkenazi Jews are more likely to have one of these BRCA genes. Some experts recommend genetic counseling for Ashkenazi women if they have one or both of the following:4

  • Any first-degree relative with breast or ovarian cancer at age 50 or younger
  • Two second-degree relatives on the same side of the family with breast or ovarian cancer

If you are not of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, some experts recommend genetic counseling if you have one or more of the following:4

  • Two first-degree relatives with breast cancer, one of whom was diagnosed at age 50 or younger
  • Three or more first- or second-degree relatives with breast cancer, diagnosed at any age
  • Both breast and ovarian cancers among your first- and second-degree relatives
  • A first-degree relative with cancer in both breasts
  • Two or more relatives with ovarian cancer
  • One relative with both breast and ovarian cancer
  • A male relative with breast cancer
1|2|3

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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