How likely am I to get breast cancer if my mother has it?

Doctor's Answers (3)

This depends on a number of factors. Firstly, is your mother is the only relation with breast cancer or are there more relatives with breast or ovarian cancers?

It also depends on the age that your mother got cancer. If your mother got cancer when she was less than 45 years old and she is the only one in the extended family with cancer then your risk is double compared to someone without a cancer in the family.

The incidence of breast cancer in Singapore is currently 1 in 14 women. If your mother got cancer when she was above 45 years of age and no other family members are affected, your risk will be lower.

If more than 2 immediate family members have breast cancer and mother got cancer at age less than 45 years of age, then the worry is if you carry the abnormal cancer gene, the BRCA genes. Someone who carries the gene than has a lifetime risk ranging between 40-80 % of getting breast cancer.

Cancer can also be triggerred by lifestyle habits such as smoking and increased alcohol intake.

The causes of cancer are multi-factorial. For example, the following factors all play a role:

  • Family history/genetics
  • Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise
  • Body weight
  • Smoking and alcohol
  • Sleep habits
  • Exposure to environmental cancer-causing chemicals 

The lifetime risk of getting breast cancer in a woman is about 1 in 8. If you have a mom who had breast cancer before the age of 50, the risk is approximately doubled, especially if you inherited a certain gene mutation on BRCA1 and BRCA2.

You can also use the National Cancer Institute’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool to find out your risk of breast cancer.

That said, women who test positive for BRCA mutations are usually followed up closely by their doctors with screening tools like breast MRI, and may even choose to prophylactically remove their breasts (a la Angelina Jolie) to completely prevent the risk of developing breast cancer.  

These screening measures can cut the risk of developing cancer to below that of an average woman.

The next step for you to take should be to ask your doctor if you should be tested for the BRCA gene, as well as to ask him for recommendations about when to get screened.

Here are some other measures you can take to reduce your risk of breast cancer:

Hope that helps!

As our understanding of cancer genetics improve, we are better able to assess a family history.

The availability of genetics testing has helped many women to be more certain about their risk of developing breast, and other, cancers.
If your mother has breast cancer, the age that she was diagnosed gives a hint as to whether it could be genetic or due to other causes (eg old age, lifestyle, etc). The younger someone is, the more we need to check for a genetic mutation. If a mutation is confirmed, then her blood relatives may also undergo the same genetics test to check if they inherited that same mutation. 
  • If a mutation is confirmed, the risk is higher. How much more mutated depends on the actual mutation.
  • If not, the risk is as for any other women!
Also, depending on the mutation, anyone (man or woman) may be at higher risk of developing other kinds of cancers or medical conditions. 
As a breast surgeon, I work closely with a few oncologists who specialise in genetics testing and counselling, so that we can provide targeted, individualised therapy for our patients, and her family. 
If you or your loved one has cancer, do speak with your doctor to check your suitability for such testing.
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All content posted is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. This Q&A is not a patient consultation and any information provided herein is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment.

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