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More Information about Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer


  • Breast cancer is common. About 1 in 10 (10%) of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • Ovarian cancer is less common. About 1 in 100 (1%) of women will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime.
  • Most cases of breast and ovarian cancer occur after the age of 70.
  • Breast and ovarian cancer is usually caused by aging, along with environmental and lifestyle factors.
  • Many people have breast cancer in their family, but most of the time it is not due to strong genetic (hereditary) factors.
    • Individuals in these families may have a moderate increased risk for breast cancer due to a combination of environmental and minor or unknown genetic factors.
  • The Federal Genetic Nondiscrimination Act prohibits health insurance companies and employers from discrimination based on family or genetic history.

Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer

  • If breast and/or ovarian cancer looks like it is “running in the family”, it may be due to inherited changes (mutations) in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 (BRCA) genes
    • The BRCA (BReast CAncer) genes normally protect us from getting certain types of cancer. If these genes are not working correctly due to a mutation (change), a person’s risk of developing cancer is increased.
    • Genetic testing can help to identify people with BRCA gene mutations.
  • About 1 out of every 20 breast cancers (5%) is caused by a BRCA gene mutation.
  • About 1 out of every 10 ovarian cancers (10%) is caused by a BRCA gene mutation.
  • Women who inherit a BRCA gene mutation:
    • have a greatly increased chance to develop breast cancer, especially at a young age;
    • have a greatly increased chance to develop ovarian cancer; and
    • can take can take special steps to reduce their chances of developing cancer.
  • Men who inherit a BRCA gene mutation also inherit a BRCA gene mutation also have increased risks for cancer, including: breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer.
  • Family members of people with a BRCA gene mutation are also at risk for having the same BRCA gene mutation and can learn from genetic testing if they do or do not have an increased risk for cancer.

Features of Hereditary Breast/ Ovarian Cancer include a personal or family history of one or more of the following:

  • Breast cancer at a young age (under 50)
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Breast and ovarian cancer diagnosed in the same individual
  • Two primary (different) breast cancers in the same individual
  • Male relative with breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish Ancestry and any relative with breast or ovarian cancer
  • A relative with a known BRCA gene mutation
  • Breast cancer diagnosed prior to age 60 with triple negative pathology (ER-, PR-, HER2 -)

There are many other causes and risk factors for both breast and ovarian cancer besides family history and BRCA gene mutations. Click on the links below for more information.

Breast Cancer     Ovarian Cancer

Copyright 2012 - 2019 created by Cecelia Bellcross, PhD, MS, CGC
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