First steps – finding out about your family history

First steps – finding out about your family history

If you are concerned about breast cancer in your family, you should first talk to your GP. They should ask whether you have first-degree blood relatives (mother, sister, daughter, father, brother, son) or second-degree blood relatives (aunt, uncle, grandparent, niece, nephew, half-sister, half-brother) who have had breast cancer or other cancers (this is called 'taking a family history').

For each blood relative who has had a cancer, your GP will want to know as much of the following as possible.

  • Their relationship to you (mother, sister, daughter, father, brother, son, aunt, uncle, grandparent, niece, nephew, half-sister, half-brother).

  • The age at which their cancers (not just breast cancer) were diagnosed.

  • Where in their body the cancer started (for example, the breast or ovaries).

  • Whether the same family member has had more than 1 cancer, including whether they have had breast cancer in both breasts (known as bilateral breast cancer).

If you don't already know the answers to these questions, your GP may ask you to do some 'homework' by discussing your family history of cancer with relatives.

Your GP will want to know if a faulty gene has already been identified in your family.

Your GP will also ask about your ethnic background because people from a Jewish background are more likely to carry the faulty genes, which may put them at higher risk of breast cancer.

If your family history matches any of the examples shown in the table below, your GP should offer you a referral to a service with specialist skills in estimating breast cancer risk.

Type of cancer

Relatives affected

Age at diagnosis

Referral for estimation of breast cancer risk

Female breast cancers only

1 first-degree relative

Under 40

Yes

2 first-degree relatives

Any age

Yes

1 first- and 1 second-degree relative

Any age

Yes

3 first-degree relatives

Any age

Yes

3 second-degree relatives

Any age

Yes

Male breast cancer

1 first-degree male relative

Any age

Yes

Bilateral breast cancer

1 first-degree relative

Under 50 for diagnosis of first cancer

Yes

Breast and ovarian cancer

1 first-degree relative with breast cancer and 1 first-degree relative with ovarian cancer

Any age

Yes

1 first-degree relative with breast cancer and 1 second-degree relative with ovarian cancer

Any age

Yes

1 second-degree relative with breast cancer and 1 first-degree relative with ovarian cancer

Any age

Yes

First-degree relatives include mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother.

Second-degree relatives include grandparent, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, half-sister, half-brother.

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