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Family history

Family history of breast and ovarian cancer

You have a family history if any of your blood relatives have had breast or ovarian cancer. 

Why does a family history matter?

Breast cancer is common and most breast cancers are not caused by genetic factors.  For a small number of women with a family history, this may be due to a gene change in a blood relative that increases the risk of cancer.  Understanding your family history of breast cancer can help to identify your risk:

one in a hundred2

Of 100 women:

average risk295 are at average risk (population risk) of developing breast cancer

medium riskOnly four women are at a moderately increased risk of developing breast cancer

high riskOnly one woman is at a potentially high risk of developing breast cancer based on her family history

When a family history is important

Your family history becomes more important when:

  • more than one relative on the same side of your family (mother’s or father’s side) has been diagnosed with breast cancer
  • relatives are diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age (under 50 years of age) and closer to you (for example your sister, rather than your cousin)
  • a family member has breast cancer in both breasts
  • male breast cancer
  • both breast and ovarian cancer exists in your family.

Reassuring facts for women with a family history

  • Most breast cancers are not caused by genetic factors
  • The earlier a cancer is detected, the greater the likelihood of successful treatment
  • Having a family history doesn’t mean you will develop breast cancer

What should I do?

Your doctor can use a familial risk assessment tool to provide a more complete assessment of your breast cancer risk. 

If there are any new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in your family it is important that you inform both BreastScreen Victoria and your doctor. 

If you have a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer and choose to remain in our screening program we will recommend a screening schedule according to your risk.

average risk2

Average risk

You will be invited to be screened every two years from 50 to 74.

average risk2

Moderately increased risk

See your doctor to undertake a clinical assessment that considers all risk factors. This may change your overall risk assessment and may indicate the need for other tests. You will be invited to be screened annually from 40 to 49 and then every 2 years until 74.

average risk2

Potentially high risk

We strongly recommend that you see your doctor for a more detailed clinical assessment. You may then be referred to a specialised clinic such as a familial cancer centre where you can be provided with extra support. If you choose to remain in our program, you will be invited to be screened annually until 59 and then every 2 years until 74.

Be breast aware

Get to know the normal look and feel of your breasts. See your doctor if you notice any unusual changes.

Ask your doctor about your risk of breast cancer and the need for screening.