Family History and Breast Cancer

Family History and Breast Cancer

Family History and Breast Cancer

It has been observed that women whose close relations have lived with breast cancer in the past have strong chances of inheriting the disease. If a woman’s sister, mother or even her daughter has been diagnosed with this cancer, her own possibility of developing the disease is also strong – it is almost double than average. And where two close relatives have had breast cancer, the possibility is 5 times more than average.

In certain cases, a sharp past record of breast cancer or tumor in the family is associated with an abnormal gene and this is eventually linked to higher risk of breast cancer. BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is typically responsible for development of breast cancer among close relations. In some other cases, it may be triggered by CHEK2 gene.

Women with a record of breast cancer in their families can avoid the development of cancer by making a few lifestyle changes and these include:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet to avoid obesity
  • Regular Exercising
  • Restricting the intake of Alcohol
  • Not Smoking

Besides these lifestyle changes, there are few medications that can reduce the breast cancer vulnerability for women whose relatives were afflicted by the disease.

Hormonal Therapy Medicines:

A breast cancer specialist may prescribe selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) for women to minimize the possibility of getting breast cancer that is hormone-receptor-positive. The two SERMs commonly used for this purpose are Tamoxifen and Evista.

The chances of first-time breast cancer (that is hormone-receptor-positive) in post-menopausal and pre-menopausal women are reduced by Tamoxifen. Some medicines may interfere with the working of Tamoxifen and this is why it is important to tell your doctor about the medications that you might be on, before you take Tamoxifen.

Evista reduces the chances of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer only in postmenopausal women.

Regular screening

For the women who face the threats of breast cancer occurrence due to family record of the disease, it is important to have more regular screenings for timely diagnosis. The doctor can tailor an individual plan for patient as per her needs. Ideally screenings should include:

  • Breast self examination on a monthly basis
  • Breast examination by the doctor at least once a year
  • Mammography once a year after the age of 40

During breast examination by the doctor, MRI or Ultrasound may also be Required.

Protective Surgical Treatment:

Some women prefer very strong and permanent options to mitigate the chances of breast cancer. One of these is prophylactic surgery (prophylactic implies protective) and it involves the removal of one or more healthy breasts and ovaries.

Prophylactic breast surgeries can decrease a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer by about 97 percent. Since major part of the tissue in breast is extracted during prophylactic surgery, there are very few cells left and so the possibility of them developing into a cancer is largely reduced.

Women who get a positive result for BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene can minimize their possibilities of breast cancer growth by at least 50% with ovary removal by prophylactic surgery. They should however undergo the surgery before menopause. Removal of ovaries decreases the risk of breast cancer since ovaries are the prime source of estrogen in pre-menopausal women. Ovary removal does not bring down the possibility of breast cancer development in post-menopausal women because muscle and fat tissues produce estrogen in their bodies.

The benefits of protective surgical treatments are reduced with advancing age. This is why women considering such surgery should undergo the treatment at a young age. Advancing age also brings risk of diabetes and heart problems and these may interfere with the benefits of a surgical treatment.

Family history of breast cancer can make a woman more prone to the disease but every individual’s condition is unique and no single procedure or medication commonly works for all. If you consider yourself vulnerable to breast cancer because of similar incidents in the family, it is best to consult a specialist and get a treatment plan customized to your individual needs.

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