Research shows having a strong family history of breast cancer does not worsen your outcomes

A study by the British Journal of Surgery has shown that inherited genes which increase the risk of developing breast cancer do not make it more difficult to treat the disease. The research findings involved studying nearly 3000 UK breast cancer patients, all of whom had developed breast cancer before the age of 41. Around two-thirds of the participants had no family history of the disease while the remaining third did. The researchers explored how the tumours in each patient developed and how they responded to treatment. The results showed no significant difference between the two groups of women in terms of recurrence or how the cancer spread in the body.

These findings could still be applied to different breast cancer types including subtypes that could or could not be treated using hormone therapy. The lead researcher, Professor Ramsey Cutress said “Successful treatment for breast cancer is just as likely in young patients with a family history of breast cancer, as in those without a family history. Patients with a family history of breast cancer can therefore be reassured that their family history alone does not mean that their outcome will be worse”.

With a quarter of all breast cancer cases thought to be linked to hereditary factors, experts believe that there are still genes related to the disease yet to be identified and screened for. In the UK, the national guidelines say women should only be referred for genetic testing if they are thought to be at high risk, such as immediate family members developing breast cancer before the age of 40. Men are also offered genetic screening for the disease if their father, son or brother develops the disease.

Samia al Qadhi, chief executive at Breast Cancer Care, commented on the results saying, “Many younger women with breast cancer are terrified about it coming back, especially when they have seen other family members face the disease.  This crucial study now gives clear evidence confirming that, rather than a family history, it is the type and stage of the breast cancer and the treatments given which are the biggest factors influencing each person’s survival. It’s also important to remember that spotting the signs early is vital – diagnosing breast cancer as soon as possible can lead to simpler and more effective treatment”.