Family history of cancer

The following gives advice on the family history of cancer.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common female cancer in the UK. In the general population 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Although breast cancer is a common disease, having an inherited tendency to developing breast cancer is quite rare. Only 5-10% of all breast cancers happen because of an inherited tendency. This means that even if you have a relative with breast cancer it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are likely to get breast cancer yourself.

What is a significant family history?

A small number of men and women may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer if they have a significant family history on either the maternal (mothers) or paternal (fathers) side of the family.

A family history may be described as significant only when there are on the same side of the family:

  • Two or more close relatives who have had breast cancer.
  • One or more close relatives who have had breast cancer under the age of 40.
  • Close relatives who have had breast cancer and others who have had ovarian cancer.
  • One close relative who has had breast cancer in both breasts (bilateral) or who’s had breast and ovarian cancer.
  • A male relative who’s had breast cancer.
  • An ethnic background where faulty breast cancer genes are more common – for example, people with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

What should I do if I have a significant family history?

If you have a significant family history it is important for you to get professional advice tailored to you and your family. Please make and appointment to see your General Practitioner who can refer you to the family history risk assessment clinic.

What will happen at the family history risk assessment clinic?

On receiving the referral you will get sent a questionnaire to complete about your family history. This will help to make an accurate assessment. Once the completed questionnaire has been received you will be sent an appointment. At the appointment your risk will be assessed and advice given regarding screening and lifestyle issues. If eligible for early mammographic screening this may be undertaken on the same day.

Useful links

Macmillan – an online personal education and risk assessment

NICE – Familial breast cancer information

Breakthrough – Breast Cancer information

Colorectal (bowel) cancer

Information on Family History of Bowel Cancer can be found at:

Beating Bowel Cancer – Family History

Further information and general family history advice

Further information and general advice can be found through the organisations below:

NHS Choices – Provides online information and guidance on all aspects of health and healthcare, to help you make choices about your health.