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When You Have a Family History of Breast Cancer.

When you have a family history of breast cancer are there any measures that can reduce your risk of developing the disease? We explore this question here:

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Your relationships do matter. Here's how your relationship to others in the family could affect breast cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if:

  • She has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative).
  • Multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family have had breast cancer. 
  • She has a first-degree male relative with breast cancer.

What Should Women with Family Members who have Breast Cancer DO to reduce their Risks?

Well, you cannot change your family history.  But here are TEN ways that can improve your chances:

  1. Be physically active - you should get in 30-45 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days a week. 
  2. Being overweight - ESPECIALLY after the menopause. 
    1. If you have a family history and tendency to weight gain, look at ways to manage and keep your weight at healthy levels including - healthy moderate diet, regular exercise, regular sleep, plenty of water, etc.
  3. Avoid reproductive/ sex hormones wherever you can:
    1. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) - we use HRT as an effective way to counter the effects of Menopause.
    2. Some HRT forms contain Oestrogen and Progesterone. Studies show that women who take these for longer than 5 years have an increased risk of developing Breast Cancer.
    3. You could also consider alternative choices to the Combined Oral Contraceptive (COC) pill for Family Planning. These drugs increase the risk of cancer during the period while a woman is using them; although the risk reduces back to normal 5-10 years after stopping.  However, some studies show that when women with a family history of Breast Cancer using COC compare to those without a family history also using COC, there is no difference in the risk for breast cancer. Some women may opt to have COC despite having a family history - you can discuss this decision fully with your Doctor to make the right choice, but if you are worried, use alternative methods of family planning.
  4. Proactively manage your reproductive history when you can by:
    1. Have your first pregnancy before age 30 years.
    2. Opt to breastfeed your children which reduces the risk of Breast cancer.
    3. Avoiding terminations of pregnancy by using appropriate family planning. Studies indicate that never having a full-term pregnancy can increase cancer risk. 'Interruption' of pregnancy may happen for several reasons (with or without planning). They are: termination of pregnancy; miscarriage, intrauterine death or other pregnancy complications - most of which we cannot control. However, you can reduce the risk of having a termination by adopting an effective family planning method until you are ready for childbirth.
  5. Cut out (down) lifestyle habits like Smoking and Alcohol  - increased consumption of both are associated with developing Breast Cancer.
  6. Regular Breast Self Examination and Clinical Breast Examination.  - You can ensure you check your own breasts every month (some days after your menstrual period) to check for any lumps or other changes. You can follow up with regular visits to your Dr to also examine your breasts.
  7. Find out as much of your family history as possible to help identify potential increased risks.
  8. Depending on how strong the risk, some women have opted to have breast removal (Mastectomy).
    1.  In some people with a particular genetic type (BRCA1, BRCA2 genes); or where several family members have had Breast cancer, the option may be to consider breast removal early or as one approaches the age at which other family members developed cancer (prophylactic mastectomy).
    2. Of course, this is an individual choice and needs to be fully discussed with your doctor.
    3. It is pertinent to say, though that not all breast tissue can possibly be removed from the body even if one opted for a radical/total mastectomy on both sides. 
    4. This is because the wall of the chest may carry breast tissue, as do other parts of the body where breast cells grow or where the lymph glands related to the breast are located like the armpits or even the collarbone.
    5. It is not possible to remove all of this tissue so a small risk of developing Breast cancer after prophylactic mastectomy will remain. 
  9. Have a regular Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast tissue that can reveal Breast cancer early.
    1. It is thought that having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. 
    2. It is thought that currently, a mammogram is the best way to find breast cancer for most women.  Learn more here.
  10. Avoid certain chemicals around you that could increase your Breast Cancer risk. Chemicals called carcinogens found in food, cosmetic products or common everyday household products may expose you more to the risk of cancer without your knowledge. Visit this site to see which cosmetic/ cleaning/ air pollutants/other household items may be associated with this.

Breast Cancer and Night Duty Work??!

A new study may suggest no link between Breast Cancer and Night Work shifts. 

In the last 3 decades it had been suspected that as a result of a change in the levels of the hormone Melatonin for women on Night shifts, they may be more at risk of developing Breast cancer.

This new Oxford study challenges this. Melatonin is different from the skin pigment Melanin.

It (Melatonin) is produced in response to darkness and is an important hormone responsible for the control of our Circadian rhythm.

Melatonin is also known to have some anticancer properties  - among which are: killing cancer cells or preventing their growth.

Women on night shifts have reduced levels of Melatonin as they spend so much time in artificial light.

It was thought for several years that this, in turn, increased the cancer risk in these women until the recent Oxford study.

However, in view of the earlier studies and Melatonin's biological properties, some schools of thought are cautious in accepting the results of the new study and call for more research into this area.


By applying these amenable measures, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing Breast Cancer.

Are there any others you know of? Please comment below.

Read More:

Edited by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through

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