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The Importance of Knowing Your Family Medical History When It Comes to Breast Cancer

Your family members share with you more than just the same color eyes or the same kind of hair. While many features you have inherited from your family members may be easy to recognize, one thing that is not easy to immediately recognize is family medical history.

Being aware of your family medical history is important because you may be at increased risk for developing medical conditions if they run in your family. Sharing your family medical history with your doctor can help you to keep an eye on any symptoms you may be having that could be an indicator of a medical condition that runs in your family. Knowing your family medical history also allows your physician to help you get screenings earlier, if need be.

Collecting your family history can be as simple as asking your family members about your family history of cancer at a gathering or family function. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends looking through any existing family records that can help you determine information about any types of cancer your relatives have had, including breast cancer. Collect information about parents, grandparents, siblings, children and extended family members like aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

When it comes to breast cancer, you’ll want to be aware of your family history to determine if you need to begin getting mammograms at an earlier age than the standard age. You’ll want to talk to your doctor about this if any of the following run in your family: breast cancer, especially at a younger age, cancer in both breasts, breast cancer in male relatives or triple negative breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 5-10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, which means they form directly from gene changes (mutations) passed on from a parent.

If you have a relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, your risk becomes greater of also developing breast cancer. For example, if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer before age 40, your risk of developing breast cancer is twice the risk of a woman without a family history of breast cancer. However, if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at an older age, your risk is not as high of also developing breast cancer.

If breast cancer runs in your family, there are certain lifestyle steps you can take to help reduce your risk. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting consumption of alcohol, eating nutritious and healthy food and never smoking are all important.

Not everyone has access to their family medical history. If you are unsure of what medical conditions run in your family, talk with your healthcare provider about other risk factors for breast cancer. Discussing these risk factors can help you learn about the risk you have, even if you don’t have information about your family history.

Family history is a critical indicator when it comes to health and breast cancer. Determining if you are at increased risk as early as possible is vital when determining the best course of prevention for you.

Talk to your physician or contact with UT Health East Texas Breast Care Center Risk Assessment Program at 903-596-3191, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.