Ovarian & Breast Cancer: Why your family history is important

Community Hospital 05/10/2016 Genetics

Ovarian & Breast Cancer: Why your family history is important

Get out your teal and pink colored ribbons everyone because September is ovarian cancer awareness month, and October is focused on breast cancer awareness.  There are many different topics that can be spotlighted for cancer awareness.  One that I believe is very important, and can potentially stop a cancer before it begins, is being aware of your family history of cancer.

The presence of breast or ovarian cancer in your family history does not automatically mean that cancer is hereditary.  Being aware of your family history and discussing this with a genetic counselor can help to determine whether you may also have an increased risk for the disease.  Research has shown that about 10% of breast cancers diagnosed are hereditary, and up to 20% of ovarian cancers are hereditary.  By determining if your family falls into the hereditary category you can become proactive in screening and reducing the risk for these cancers.

There are features, or red flags, to be aware of in your family history that may indicate a hereditary cause for breast and/or ovarian cancer.  Some features that are more concerning for hereditary breast and/or ovarian cancer include breast cancer diagnosed under the age of 50, 3 or more individuals diagnosed with breast cancer on the same side of the family, individual with 2 or more primary breast cancer diagnoses, male breast cancer, and ovarian cancer diagnosed at any age.  This is not an extensive list of concerning features.  If you have questions about your family history and risk of cancer speak with a genetic counselor or physician.

If you are interested in discussing your family history of cancer and how it may affect your cancer risks please speak with your doctor about genetic counseling.  If you or a family member are identified as having hereditary cancer risks there are specific actions you can take to reduce your cancer risks or increase surveillance to detect cancer at earlier, more treatable stages.  One of the great benefits of genetic counseling and testing is the ability to change the pattern of cancer in a family going forward.  The cancer that may have affected past generations is not doomed to repeat itself when families become empowered to take action with genetic information!

Katie Lemas, MS, CGC

Genetic Counselor – Grand Valley Oncology