Breast Cancer Risk in Daughters of Women With Breast Cancer


Having a mother with breast cancer increases the chance that you could also develop the disease. While most breast cancer is actually not hereditary, it is valuable to know if you have family members who were ever diagnosed with the disease. Women who have a mother, sister, or daughter who developed breast cancer at a young age (premenopausal) have double the risk of the disease compared to those who don’t have this family history.

With new genetic testing techniques, breast cancer genes can be identified even before the disease develops. However, such testing is imperfect in terms of determining your risk. While a breast cancer gene increases the chance you’ll develop the disease—whether you have a family history of breast cancer or not— not having such a gene does not mean you are necessarily in the clear.


Family History and Breast Cancer Risk

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, affecting one in eight (12 percent) throughout their lifetimes. A family history of the disease does increase your risk, but by how much depends on who in your family had breast cancer.

Here’s a general sense of how family history affects a woman’s risk of breast cancer:

Family History of Breast Cancer Your Breast Cancer Risk (Approx.)
First-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child 24 percent
Two first-degree relatives 36 percent
Second-degree relative (grandparent, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew) 22 percent
Third-degree relative (great-grandparent, cousin, great aunt or uncle) 16 percent

Prostate cancer in male relatives also increases your risk of breast cancer, but the percent increase is not known.

Breast cancer or prostate cancer in younger relatives (premenopausal or under the age of 50) raises your risk more than having older relatives with these conditions.

Collecting Your Family History

Your mother is an important figure in your cancer risk profile if she has or has had breast cancer. But, given the above, it’s also helpful to find out if cancer has affected other family members, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Don’t assume that you know this information—it’s worth specifically asking.

For the purpose of building your own family history, you need to know:

  • What type of cancer a relative had
  • What age they were diagnosed
  • If they were cured, still living with cancer, or have died

Other details, such as the grade, type, and stage of cancer are not as important for you to know. If you develop breast cancer, your medical team will identify your own grade, type, and stage rather than relying on your family history.

If your mother or father are alive and able to share your family’s background with you, filling out the Cancer Family History Questionnaire that was created by the American Society of Clinical Oncology can help you keep track of the information. Once you gather your family history, it would be useful to keep that record for yourself and for other family members who share some of your family medical history.

Conversations About Cancer

It’s also important to consider connecting with your family members by asking about more than just the facts about their illness.

  • How did they deal with the fear and uncertainty?
  • Who did they lean on for support?
  • How did they celebrate getting healthy?

Let them talk about the obstacles they overcame and the things they learned about life as they fought their illness. While these conversations won’t add facts about your health, they offer a valuable opportunity to bond.

Don’t be surprised if a relative—your mother, especially—isn’t immediately forthcoming about sharing her cancer story. In addition to the topic possibly being a sensitive one personally, there may be a hesitancy to cause you distress. Express how important it is to you to hear this information and be as supportive as possible as it is shared.

Using Your Family History

You should certainly share your family history with your medical team. Your healthcare providers might advise genetic counseling or genetic testing if your family history suggests that you could be carrying a breast cancer gene.

Some red flags include:

  • Cancer of any kind before the age of 50 (you)
  • More than one relative with the same type of cancer
  • One family member who has more than one type of cancer
  • A family member who has cancer not typical for that gender, such as breast cancer in a male
  • Certain combinations of cancer, such as the combination of breast cancer with ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, or melanoma
  • Cancer in both of one organ, for example, bilateral breast or ovarian cancer

When You Can’t Find Your Family History

While many women already know if their mother, sister, or daughter have had breast cancer, you might not have this information.

If your close family members passed away at a young age, if some of them didn’t have access to health care (and might not have been diagnosed), if you were adopted, or if members of your family have been otherwise separated, you might not know which illnesses run in your family.

While family history is important information, breast cancer screenings (mammograms and breast self-examinations) are the most important tools for early detection, whether or not you have a family history of the disease.

Genetic Testing

There are a number of genes associated with breast cancer. The most common of these are BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, but there are over 70 identified gene mutations associated with breast cancer, some of which are described as non-BRCA gene mutations. And there is a link between breast cancer genes and the outcome of the disease.

While your family history is a record of the diseases that your family members were diagnosed with, genetic testing is a bit different.

You could have inherited a gene for breast cancer even if no one in your family ever had the disease. And you could have a hereditary tendency to develop the condition even if you don’t have an identifiable breast cancer gene.

With this in mind, genetic testing requires a complex decision-making process. The genes you should be tested for and the overall value of the test depend on a number of factors, including your age, health history, family history, race, and ethnic background.

A Word of Caution Regarding Home Genetic Tests for Breast Cancer

The idea of a home genetic test for breast cancer is exciting to many people, as these tests might help them avoid the clinic while being their own advocate in their health. It’s important to thoroughly understand the limitations of these tests, however, if you choose to do one.

For example, a popular at-home genetic test identifies three breast cancer genes that are more common among Ashkenazi women but are rare in other ethnic populations. While the company is transparent in admitting that the test only checks for 3 out of a potential 1000 BRCA mutations, not everyone reads the small print. The bottom line on this test is that for Ashkenazi Jewish woman, a positive test might let them know they should see their healthcare provider (but a negative result is meaningless). For most women the test is relatively meaningless, and actually be harmful if they trusted the results and did not have formal testing.

Genetic Testing

Genomic testing and whole exome sequencing are genetic tests that can provide you with information about all of your genes, not just breast cancer genes. This type of testing can be useful, but the cost might not be covered by your health insurer. Furthermore, “good” results can provide a false sense of security—you can develop breast cancer even if you don’t have a known breast cancer gene.

Genetic Counseling

Ideally, everyone would have genetic counseling prior to testing. A good genetic counselor may find areas of concern despite negative tests, and can talk to you about what testing means. For example, not all gene mutations that raise the risk of breast cancer do so to the same degree; a concept known as penetrance. One particular mutation may raise the risk such that 70% of women with the mutation develop breast cancer in their lifetime, whereas other mutations may raise the risk perhaps 50%, giving a woman lifetime risk of developing the disease of 1 in 6 rather than 1 in 8.

A Word From Get Meds Info

Whether you have a family history of breast cancer or not, there are ways for you to lower your own risk. Make sure that your healthcare team knows if your mother, sister, daughter, or other family members had this disease or if you or any of your relatives carries a gene for the disease. And definitely, don’t skip your annual screenings.

More and more women and men are getting diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier stage, receiving more effective treatment, and surviving for years after the diagnosis. You certainly need to be vigilant if you have a family history of breast cancer, but there is no need to live in fear.

Was this page helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

Get honest information, the latest research, and support for you or a loved one with breast cancer right to your inbox.

You’re in!

Thank you, {{}}, for signing up.

There was an error. Please try again.

What are your concerns?

10 Sources
Get Meds Info uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference. Breast cancer. Updated March 17, 2020.

  2. The American Cancer Society. Breast cancer risk factors you cannot change. Updated September 10, 2019.

  3. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Breast cancer facts.

  4. Cancer family history questionnaire.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Updated March 25, 2020.

  6. The American Cancer Association. Breast cancer early detection and diagnosis.

  7. The American Cancer Society. Genetic counseling and testing for breast cancer risk. Updated September 10, 2019.

  8. US National Library of Medicine Genetics Home. Can a direct-to-consumer genetic test tell me whether I will develop cancer? Updated March 17, 2020.

  9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA authorizes, with special controls, direct-to-consumer test that reports three mutations in the BRCA breast cancer genes. 03/06/18.

  10. The American Cancer Association. Can I lower my risk of breast cancer? Updated September 10, 2019.

Additional Reading

Get Meds Info uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience and for our

business purposes.

Related Articles
Choosing foods to diet after a heart attack

All cardiovascular specialists agree that a healthy diet is important to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease (CHD) Read more

Different types of hysterectomies.

A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of a woman's uterus . Hysterectomy is usually done Read more

Esthetician: experience, specialties and training

An esthetician is a person who specializes in cosmetic skin care. Cosmetologists (sometimes called estheticians ) are not medical Read more

Benefits, Side Effects, Dosages, and Interactions.

CBD oil is an extract from Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa , the same plants that produce marijuana when Read more