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Does breast cancer run in families?

No woman is immune to breast cancer. However, some women with extensive family histories of the disease may wonder if they’re more vulnerable to breast cancer than those without such a link.

According to, anywhere from five to ten per cent of breast cancers result from inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are passed on in families. Inherited mutations in other genes also can cause breast cancer (as well as ovarian cancer), but BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most commonly affected genes.

And it’s not just women who can inherit these mutations. Though men account for only a small percentage of breast cancer patients, they can get the disease, and those who inherit mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are more likely to develop breast cancer than other men.

It’s noted that not everyone who inherits a BRCA1, BRCA2 or other mutation will develop breast cancer, and women with such mutations can take steps to help lower their risk for the disease. Doctors can discuss those steps with women, but they may include genetic counselling and testing.

In Canada, national guidelines state that women between 50 and 74 benefit most from regular breast screening. Even in instances when counselling and testing is not ultimately recommended by a physician, women should consider talking to their doctors about starting mammography screening earlier. Some physicians may feel it’s worth it depending on the individual.

This story was written for the Think Pink advertising feature. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.