Mom worries about husband’s family history of breast cancer

While a mother has no family history of breast cancer, her husband's family does, which leads to a question: should the couple's daughter undergo extensive genetic testing to determine whether she is prone to getting breast cancer?

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Lifestyle

June 20, 2022 - 12:56 PM

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Dear Dr. Donohue: I am concerned that my 33-year-old daughter will have breast cancer. I have no history in my family of breast cancer, but my husband’s grandmother, mother and sister all have had breast cancer with double mastectomies. I have heard that the DNA follows the mother’s side and not the father’s. Is this true or an old wives’ tale? Should she have a BRCA test? — D.C.

Answer: Most cases of breast cancer are sporadic, meaning there is no particular identifiable family risk to develop breast cancer. However, there are identified genetic risks, especially including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic variants, which are worth testing for in certain situations.

The guidelines for testing a person for BRCA1/2 are complicated, and I don’t have enough space to even summarize them here. However, the family history you’ve given is probably not enough to recommend gene testing (unless there are other factors, such as an Ashkenazi Jewish background). The types of breast cancer (such as ‘triple negative” breast cancer) and the ages at which the family members were diagnosed are also important.

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