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Quick Facts About Family Health History and Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer

Family Health History and Breast and Ovarian Cancer

  • Family health history is an important factor affecting a woman’s risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.
  • All women should collect and record information about their family history of breast and ovarian cancer, including the age the cancer was diagnosed. Cancers on both the mother’s and father’s sides are important.
  • To collect your family history, click on My Family Health Portrait, a tool from the U.S. Surgeon General.
  • There are many other factors that may increase a woman’s risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer. Learn more about other risk factors for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • There are also choices women can make to lower their risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Learn more about reducing risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Breast and Ovarian Cancer and BRCA1/2 Genes

  • Most cases of breast and ovarian cancer that occur in the general population are notthe result of an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
  • Only about 3 out of every 100 women who develop breast cancer will have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
  • About 10 of every 100 women who develop ovarian cancer will have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
  • For women who have a BRCA1/2 mutation, the risk for early breast cancer and ovarian cancer is greatly increased.
  • In some families breast cancer or ovarian cancer will occur due to inherited mutations in genes other than BRCA1/2. However, this is uncommon.

Genetic Counseling and Evaluation for BRCA1/2 Testing

  • Only women with increased risk family history patterns are likely to benefit from a genetic evaluation.
  • Genetic counseling by a suitably trained health care provider is important to help women make informed decisions about genetic testing.
  • BRCA1/2 genetic testing will provide the most useful information to families if a mutation is first identified in a family member with breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Not all individuals from a family with a BRCA1/2 mutation will have the mutation.
  • Women with BRCA1/2 mutations can take effective steps to prevent cancer or lower their chances of dying from cancer if it does develop.

Keep reading to understand your risks for breast and ovarian cancer and whether genetic testing might be right for you:


The CDC Office of Public Health Genomics makes available the above information as a public service only. Providing this information does not constitute endorsement by the CDC. Note that some links may become invalid over time.  Top of Page

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