How Much Does Family History Affect Breast Cancer Risk?

Another controversial study about mammograms recently set me off on a reading frenzy. Mammograms save lives…no they don’t…yes they do…no they don’t… It’s enough to make your head explode. There’s a lot of information to digest, but I’m not going to try to sway you one way or another.

Instead, I want address a related issue. It was during that recent reading frenzy that I noticed a disturbing trend among commenters who put a whole lot of stock in their family health history. Some seem to think that a cancer-free history is a free pass, but I’m here to tell you that it is not.

Here’s the thing: according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), only about 10 percent of all breast cancer cases are due to inherited genes. Clearly, a clean family history of breast cancer is no guarantee that you won’t get it. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACI) says that only about 5-10 percent of all cancers are the result of defective genes inherited from a parent.

I’m a great example of the family history trap. I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2010. There was no incidence of breast cancer of any kind in my family. I was unaware then, and am unaware still, of any blood relative who has been diagnosed with any type of cancer.

Sometimes, cancer runs in families not because of genetics, but because of a common environment or behavior, like smoking.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve never been a smoker, never been obese, and I’ve loved fruits and veggies since I was a child. On the other hand, I haven’t always exercised quite as much as I should.

So, while I’m not the person to tell you what cancer-screening tests you should get, or when or how often, I do want to give you food for thought regarding your family’s health history. A history of cancer in the family means you should take lifestyle and medical choices very seriously.

A clean cancer slate is a fantastic starting point, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. There’s a lot more at play when it comes to cancer. Please keep that in mind when you make lifestyle and medical decisions. Don’t let your family history be the death of you.

Younger Women Need Mammograms, Says New Study
Mammography: Saving Lives Or Overdiagnosis Overkill?

Photo: photographer/copyright marekuliasz | iStock collection | Thinkstock

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Tanya Selth
Tanya Selth1 years ago

thanks, interesting that part that only 10% of cancer cases are due to inherited genes.
I do have a family history, my grandmother wasnt old when she died of breast cancer. She actually got two completely different kinds of it. Thou her specialist before she died said that her children and grandchildren would need testing from 10 years earlier then normally recommended, my doctor when I asked said he didnt think I needed to worry at all about this as he said family history wasnt all that important and having grandmother who died from it shouldnt increase my risk. (He's probably wrong, i've been told a lot of wrong stuff by doctors).

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen1 years ago

Thank you :)

Vicky P.
Vicky P.1 years ago

yeah, all the contradictions are quite annoying, thanks

Sandra A.
Sandra A.1 years ago

Iodine sufficient beings do not get cancer!
Getting mammograms means shooting radiation thru the breasts 1-2 times per year.
Radiation never goes away, it builds up. Radiation can cause cancers (and has)...

da c.
Past Member 1 years ago

thank you

JL A.1 years ago

good information and awareness to keep in mind

Lynn C.
Lynn C.1 years ago


Chloe R.
Chloe R.1 years ago


Anne Knox
Anne K.1 years ago

thank you!

Linda Wallace
Linda Wallace1 years ago

Cancer is a big worry whether there is a genetic history or not. Sometimes it happens for no apparent reason at all. May be we just don't know enough but I hope that we figure it out soon.