What To Do If Breast Cancer Runs In Your Family

Having a family history of any disease is reason to be a little more vigilant in preventative measures. If you have a mother, grandmother, or sisters who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you might wonder if it's only a matter of time before you share the diagnosis. Here is how to tell if you are at risk and the steps you can take to protect your health.

Risk Factors

Just because you have one relative with the disease doesn't make it hereditary. Here are some indicators to tell if you are at greater risk:

  • You have several cases of breast cancer occurring at a young age in your predecessors. A young age is generally considered to be under 40 years old
  • You have a close, blooded relative like a mother or sister who contracted the disease at any age when a close ancestor/older relative also had it at a young age.  
  • Your father, grandfather, blooded uncles, or brothers contracted breast cancer.
  • You have relative who also contracted ovarian, prostate, or pancreatic cancer. 

If one or more of these indicators are present, you should talk to your doctor about your concerns and about early detection methods. Breast cancer is very treatable if it is caught early.

Screenings And Prevention Tools

After determining your risk based on your family medical history, you can order a test to look for a genetic mutation that indicates you have a much higher risk for cancer in life. This mutation is inherited on the BRCA1 of BRCA2 gene. You can get the mutation from your mother or your father, so both sides of the family history are relevant to your risk screening. If another member of your family has tested positive for the mutation, it is even more important that you get screened, because the presence of this gene type increases your risk from 12% to around 50% depending on the type of mutation. 

Another part of early detection is to do self-administered breast cancer exams. Each month, typically while in the shower, you should feel your breasts for lumps, growth, or any changes that stay. Breasts can change shape and texture during a monthly menstruation cycle, so any changes that come and go are usually not concerning. Don't forget about the breast tissue that extends into the armpit or up higher on the chest. Even though these areas may not appear to part of the proper breast, they can still contract breast cancer. 

You should also start medical screening for breast cancer earlier than the recommended age for the general population. Generally, it is best to start screening five years before the age that your relative contracted the disease—if your older sister or father had breast cancer at 40, you should begin medical screenings at age 35. But, if you have the gene mutations mentioned above, that time should be extended. You should begin screening 10 years earlier than your youngest relative was diagnosed. 

You can opt for breast exams from your family doctor. You can also get a yearly mammogram. They have both 3D and 2D digital mammograms. The 2D method takes photos of the breast from the top and front, but the 3D also provides images of the breast as it is squeezed into a "slice" between two metal plates. Although no studies have shown that there is any superiority in between these two methods, the 3D type can get a more thorough record of the breast, making it easier to see small abnormalities. You should check with your insurance company to see if they will cover the upgraded screenings, as they can be helpful for those who are at greater cancer risk. For information on 3D mammography, contact a company like EVDI Medical Imaging.

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