Many women are afraid of an increased risk of breast cancer due to family history

Often what is claimed to be a strong family history of breast cancer is only an accidental event. This is due to the fact that breast cancer is a common disease.

Based on the medical history of thousands of women, modern risk assessment tools are able to provide an estimation of the individual women’s risk of contracting breast cancer.

These tools utilise data that include: detailed family history, age at the birth of the women’s first child, a history of breast biopsies and other biologic factors that influence the risk of breast cancer.

The result is a comprehensive risk profile. The most important risk factor is the presence of an abnormality in breast cancer gene 1 or 2. If such an abnormality exists, the risk of suffering breast cancer increases substantially (60 – 90%).

Women in this risk category can be identified by the presence in female family members of multiple breast cancers at a young age, and/or ovarian cancer and breast and/or prostate cancer in male family members.

This risk profile facilitates objective counselling and if necessary, targeted management.

In an instance such as this, we recommend an assessment by a medical practitioner with a special interest in breast disease.

Genetic studies can be requested if indicated to further assess the risk of breast cancer.

Managing an identified high risk could include:

  • Closer surveillance by breast ultrasound and mammography or even breast MRI prior to the recommended screening age of 40.
  • Anti-oestrogen medication.
  • A bilateral risk reduction mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

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