How Important is it to Obtain a Family History?

Dr. Paula Ryan answers the question: 'How Important Is Family History?'

— -- Question: How important is it to obtain a family history?

Answer: Family history is critically important to obtain in our breast clinic. For one, after age and gender, family history is one of the most important risk factors for breast cancer. So we want to determine an individual's risk for the development of breast cancer, but we also want to determine if that individual may be in a family who has a higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

In certain families the inheritance of the Breast Cancer 1 or Breast Cancer 2 gene, which we term BRCA1 or BRCA2, increase that individual's lifetime risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. It is very important that we get an accurate and actually extensive family history that encompasses three generations, if possible, to determine whether these may be factors that led to the breast or ovarian cancer in a particular family.

Some of the features of these families, in particular, include multiple cases of breast and/or ovarian cancer -- in particular with the breast cancer diagnosis being at very young ages. Other features include individuals who have multiple primaries, in other words, one individual may have developed both breast and ovarian cancer in her lifetime, or, an individual who may have developed a breast cancer in both of her breasts. Male breast cancer is another feature of these families as well.

So in summary, family history is very important in our clinic to not only determine an individual's risk of developing breast cancer, but for potentially identifying families in which these inherited predispositions to breast and ovarian cancer may be important.

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