Question: How can I find out if I am at an increased risk of breast cancer due to my family history?
Answer:The first step in doing that is to start talking to your family about cancer. A lot of families don't say the word cancer out loud. They don't talk necessarily about who had cancer in the family and they don't stand up and say it to everyone in the family when someone's diagnosed with cancer. So that's the first step is clarifying who in your family had cancer.
And then you can talk to your primary health care provider and let them know what your family history looks like. If there are more than one breast cancer in the family, breast cancers diagnosed at younger than expected ages, ovarian and breast cancer in the family, then those are certainly indicators that there may be an increased hereditary susceptibility to breast cancer. Males with breast cancer is another one or an individual who has both breast and ovarian cancer are all indicators of an increased likelihood of having an inherited mutation. Women of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage may be at increased risk of carrying a mutation in one of these genes.
So, even a few breast cancers or an ovarian cancer in the family and a heritage of Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, may be enough to think about seeking counseling about hereditary cancer risk. You can find someone who is a specialist in cancer risk counseling by looking on the cancer on the Internet called the Cancer Net; it's a National Cancer Institute service that will help you locate a specialist who can counsel you about familial cancer risk in your area.
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