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Breast cancer in the family:
What does it mean for you?

Learn how a family history of cancer might affect you

If breast cancer runs in your family, it’s a natural question to ask: Will I get it too?

There’s no way to know for sure. But it’s true that a family history of breast cancer does increase your risk.

According to the American Cancer Society, having a mother, sister or daughter with a history of breast cancer about doubles your chance of getting the disease. And having two close relatives with it raises your risk even more.

But keep this reassuring fact in mind: Many women with a family history of breast cancer never get the disease. And even if it does run in your family, there are things you can do to help yourself stay healthy.

If your history raises red flags

Start by talking with your doctor about your family health history. That includes both sides — your mother’s and your father’s. Along with other factors, this can help your doctor evaluate your risk.

If you’re at increased risk of breast cancer, you and your doctor can discuss your options. They may include:

A close eye. You may need earlier and more frequent mammograms. Your doctor might also suggest tests such as an MRI. This stepped-up monitoring can help find cancer early — and boost the chances of successful treatment. Talk with your doctor about what tests you need and how often you should get them.

Genetic testing. Women who test positive for an inherited gene may choose more aggressive screening and treatment options. See “A small group at big risk.”

Medications. Over time, estrogen exposure can affect the risk of breast cancer. For women at high risk, doctors may prescribe certain medicines that act against this hormone.

Surgery — for women at high risk. Some women may consider preventive surgery. A double mastectomy — removing both breasts — may significantly lower the risk. So might removal of both ovaries in premenopausal women in this group.

These steps aren’t right for everyone. They are typically not recommended for women at average risk.

Your doctor can help you determine what’s right for you. Be sure to check your benefit plan to see what services may be covered.

Safeguards for every woman

There’s something else to know about family history. Most women who develop breast cancer don’t have any relatives with the illness.

That means — with or without a family history — it’s smart to do all you can to help lower your risk. Here are four ways to do that:

1. Watch the scale. Gaining excess weight, particularly after menopause, can increase the risk.

2. Move more.* Regular exercise may decrease hormone levels — and help lower breast cancer risk. Another benefit: It can help you maintain a healthy weight.

3. Limit alcohol. The more you drink, the greater your risk of breast cancer. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about how drinking may affect you.

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*Talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level.

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