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Cancer Genetics

Breast Cancer/Genetics



My mother and aunt both had breast cancer. My mother has breast cancer in her remaining breast (30 yrs ago 1st time) and this time spread to her nodes. What are the chances for her daughter to have breast cancer. I have already had one lump removed which was negative. I have my mamogram yearly and visit a specialist twice a year because of my family history. Any other precautions I should take? My Uncle (throat cancer) and cousin (lekemia) both died from cancer also (mother`s side). And what are the chance of development of cancer in my two sons. i have heard that diseases skip generations, is that true?


To provide you with an accurate estimate of your lifetime risk for developing breast cancer, we would need to know how old your mother and grandmother were when they were diagnosed with breast cancer. However, I can tell you that the fact that your mother has had breast cancer twice, once in each breast, is suspicious that she may have had a genetic predisposition to develop breast cancer.

Contrary to what you have heard, hereditary breast-ovarian cancer does NOT skip generations. It is an autosomal dominant condition, which means that the children of a man or woman who has hereditary breast-ovarian cancer have a 50% chance that they have inherited the predisposition to cancer. So, if your mother had the hereditary form of breast cancer, you would have a 50% chance of having inherited it. If you did inherit it, then your sons would each have a 50% chance of inheriting the cancer predisposition syndrome. If you did not inherit it, your sons would not be at risk.

Throat cancer and leukemia (as found in your uncle and cousin) have not been associated with the hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome. For more information about hereditary breast-ovarian cancer, you might want to review the OSU factsheet entitled, "Questions and Answers about Hereditary Breast-Ovarian Cancer", available on the Internet (see Weblinks below). A cancer genetic counselor could meet with you to obtain more detailed information about your family history and your personal history. They would then be able to tell you how likely it is that your family history is hereditary and if so, what screening would be appropriate. If your family history does not appear to be hereditary, they could give you an accurate estimate of your lifetime risk for developing breast cancer and still discuss appropriate screening. To find a local cancer genetic counselor, visit the National Cancer Institute`s Physician Directory (PDQ) for Cancer Genetics Professionals (See Weblinks below).

It sounds like you are getting excellent breast cancer screening as long as you are also performing monthly breast self-examination. You may also be eligible for the STAR study, a study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifen, two medications that may reduce the risk for developing breast cancer. For more information about this study, visit the National Cancer Institute research study website (See Weblinks below).

Related Resources:

NCI Cancer Genetics Services Directory
NCI STAR study information

For more information:

Go to the Cancer Genetics health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Heather L Hampel, MS, CGC Heather L Hampel, MS, CGC
Cancer Genetic Counselor
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Judith A Westman, MD Judith A Westman, MD
Associate Professor, Clinical Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Medical Biochemistry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University