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Talk with a Doctor if Breast or Ovarian Cancer Runs in Your Family

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The Basics

Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. You may be at higher risk for developing these types of cancer.

There are steps you can take to help prevent breast and ovarian cancer. Start by understanding your cancer risk with this interactive tool.

Genetic counseling and testing for breast and ovarian cancer

If close relatives of yours have had breast or ovarian cancer, you may be at higher risk. Genetic counseling and testing can help you understand your chances of getting cancer.

Genetic tests help doctors look for changes (or mutations) in your genes. If you have changes in certain genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, you are more likely to get breast or ovarian cancer.

Talk with your doctor about genetic testing if:

  • 2 or more of your close relatives (such as parents, siblings, or children) have had breast or ovarian cancer
  • a close family member developed breast cancer before age 50
  • a family member had both breast and ovarian cancer
  • you have Eastern European Jewish heritage

Learn more about genetic testing:

Drugs can reduce breast cancer risk.

If you are at high risk of developing breast cancer, you can take drugs to help lower your risk. This is called chemoprevention. There are 2 drugs approved by the FDA, tamoxifen and raloxifene, that may help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Scientists are still studying these drugs to find out if they reduce breast cancer risk in women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

There are side-effects and possible risks from taking these drugs, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your cancer risk and your prevention options.

Learn more about chemoprevention:

The Benefits

If your personal or family history suggests you may be at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer, genetic counseling and testing can help you make the best decisions about your health.

Some women choose chemoprevention to reduce their risk of breast cancer. Several studies have shown chemoprevention to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer in women with increased risk.

Take Action!

Start by talking to a doctor about your cancer risk.

Talk with a doctor about your family health history.

Fill out this family health history chart, [PDF-1.71MB] and bring it with you to the doctor. The chart will help you find common diseases that run in your family.

Ask questions.

You may want to ask the doctor or genetic counselor the following questions:

  • Do I need genetic counseling?
  • What are my chances of inheriting an altered (changed) gene that could increase my risk of cancer?
  • Besides altered genes, what are my other risk factors for breast and ovarian cancer?
  • What types of cancer screenings are recommended if I decide not to do genetic testing?
  • If I get tested, who will be able to see my test results?

Be prepared.

If you are thinking about genetic testing for breast or ovarian cancer, first think about what you will learn and how it will affect you and your family. External Link

Here are some questions to think about:

  • Will I share the test results with my spouse or partner? My children? Family and friends? How will they react to the news?
  • Are my children ready to learn new information that may one day affect their health?

Learn more about getting tested for breast cancer.

What do you want to do today?

  • Fill out a family health history chart.
  • Answer these questions to better understand your breast cancer risk.
  • Talk to your doctor about your cancer risk.

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    National Health Information Center

    P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133