Frequently Asked Questions: For Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer

Women can be at increased risk for breast cancer because they have inherited what is commonly known as the “breast cancer gene.” These are actually two genes also known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have these genes are at very high risk to get cancer of the breast and ovary during the course of their lifetime. These genes are more common in women who develop breast cancer under the age of 45, who have cancer in both breasts, have both breast and ovarian cancer or who have multiple family members with breast cancer at a young age or ovarian cancer at any age. Women of Ashkenazi Jewish origin are at increased risk to have this gene due to the high prevalence of the gene in this population.

Women with the breast cancer gene account for about 5% of cases of breast cancer. If you have any of the family history as listed above, you may benefit from talking with a genetic counselor to see if you should be tested for the gene and also to discuss the possible benefits and risks of genetic testing.

Read more about the cancer genetics program here.

Women can also be at high risk for the development of breast cancer even if they do not have the gene. Some of the risk factors associated with the development of breast cancer are: older age, early menarche (starting your period before the age of 12), nulliparity (never having children), having your first child after the age of 31, having one or more first degree relatives with breast cancer or having one or more biopsies of the breast particularly if these biopsies show a condition called atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ. If you have one or more of these risk factors, please discuss your risk with your doctor. There are several options available to help you lower your risk including the use of medication.

Get information about breast cancer prevention from The National Cancer Institute here.