Does Breast Cancer Run in the Family?

October 10, 2018

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Tara Balija, M.D., FACS contributes to topics such as Cancer Care.

By Brianna McCabe

Cancer is more common than you may think. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will battle a form of cancer at some point during their lives.

Although more than 100 types of cancers exist worldwide, the most frequently detected in women is breast cancer. Of the 266,000 American women diagnosed each year, roughly 5-10% develop the disease as a result of inherited gene mutations, or changes. In other words, breast cancer can run in the family.

Tara Balija, M.D., FACS, an attending surgeon within the Division of Breast Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, explained that the most commonly inherited cases of breast cancer are linked to mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. “Most people have normal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes,” she says. “They function to repair DNA damage. Mutations, however, can negatively impact the normal function of these genes and increase the risks of developing cancer.”

According to Dr. Balija, an individual is more likely to have a genetic mutation in BRCA1 and BRCA2 if:

  • A person’s biological parent carries a mutation – a child then has a 50% chance of inheriting this mutation.
  • A first-degree relative, such as a mother or sister, had breast cancer – especially at a younger age.
  • A close relative was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50.
  • Cancer was identified in both breasts of a close relative.
  • A man in your family has had breast cancer.
  • There is both breast and ovarian cancer on the same side of the family.
  • There are multiple breast cancers in the family throughout different generations.
  • You are of Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern European) heritage.

“However, roughly 77% of women with breast cancer have no known family history of the disease,” shares Dr. Balija on the likelihood of developing the disease due to hereditary causes. “This implies that breast cancers in most women are due to other causes and not due to a breast cancer gene that runs in the family.” Other risk factors for breast cancer may include:

  • Being over the age of 50.
  • Early menstrual periods before age 12.
  • Late menopause after age 55.
  • Having dense breasts.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Not engaging in routine physical activity.
  • Smoking.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Previous chest radiation for Hodgkin’s lymphoma before age 30.
  • Hormone replacement therapy for more than 5 years.

“The vast majority of breast cancer cases are sporadic,” says Dr. Balija. “Since 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer over their lifetime, ultimately the greatest risk factor is the fact that a patient is a woman. This is why breast cancer screening for all women is so important for early breast cancer detection.”

If a person feels that he or she may be at risk for developing breast cancer, Dr. Balija recommends consulting with both a primary care provider and a clinical breast specialist to evaluate family history and other risk factors.

Dr. Balija practices at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, part of the Division of Breast Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center. Call 551-996-8778 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Balija, located at 20 Prospect Avenue (Suite 402) in Hackensack.

To schedule a mammogram at a facility in northern New Jersey, visit HackensackUMC.org/BreastImaging or call 551-996-2222. To schedule a mammogram at a facility near you in Monmouth or Ocean counties, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org/BreastImaging.

The Division of Breast Surgery offers the Breast Cancer Assessment & Risk Evaluation (C.A.R.E.) Program. Led by Dr. Balija, director of the C.A.R.E. Program, our team provides individualized breast cancer risk assessments and tailors screening and prevention plans for patients with an elevated risk for the development of breast cancer. Call 551-996-8778 for more information or to schedule a consultation.

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.