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Cancer Genetics

Female Organ Cancer Genetics

10/27/2004

Question:

If there is family history of cervical cancer or breast cancer are there links to other cancers? One of my aunts has had breast cancer, one cervical, does that link to ovarian or uterine or is it strictly those particular cancers to watch out for? How much is the risk of cancer increased by family history?

Answer:

Generally a family history of breast cancer increases the risk for breast cancer somewhat.  The amount of increase depends on how closely related the woman with breast cancer is to you.  Having an aunt with breast cancer may increase your risk of breast cancer by a few percentage points.  For example, if your aunt had breast cancer at age 60, and you are currently 40, your lifetime chance of developing breast cancer may increase from about 12% for the average woman to about 15-18%.  As you can see, this isn't a really big increase.  A more precise estimate can be performed by your primary care physician or at a breast cancer screening center.  There doesn't appear to be much of an increase for ovarian cancer for women whose aunts have been diagnosed with breast cancer.  The lifetime risk of ovarian cancer for the average woman is 1-2% over her lifetime.

As for cervical cancer, the biggest risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with human papilloma virus.  This usually occurs when women have intercourse with a man who has picked up HPV from intercourse with another woman.  While HPV infections are fairly common, only specific strains of HPV virus increase the risk of cervical cancer.  Because HPV infections are so common, and because they may not lead to any symptoms, it is important that women have Pap tests every year once they become sexually active.  Your primary care physician can also discuss this with you.

If you are interested in having a genetic cancer risk evaluation, you can find a genetic counselor in your area by going to the website for the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

Related Resources:

NSGC

For more information:

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Response by:

Duane D Culler, PhD, MS Duane D Culler, PhD, MS
Clinical Instructor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University