Statistics often can create a great deal of confusion and anxiety ó triggering unfounded alarm. Having a first degree relative (e.g., mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer can double a womanís risk of developing breast cancer. However, whether or not a woman with a family history of breast cancer will ever develop breast cancer depends upon many risk factors.
Research has discovered some abnormalities (mutations) in certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. These mutated BRCA genes can be passed genetically either from mother to child or from father to child.
Just because your mother had breast cancer, however, does not mean that a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes was present, and does not mean that you have a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Only 1 in 10 women with breast cancer have a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
Breast cancer due to an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene tends to happen at an early age (before menopause and/or under the age of 40 or 50), in multiple relatives, and in one or both breasts (but usually not at the same time).
Even if you have a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, it does not mean you will get breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Women with a mutated BRCA1 gene have a 50% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Women with a mutated BRCA2 gene have a 50% to 60% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.  Furthermore, medical options for women with mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
It is important to remember that, in addition to genetics, there are many other risk factors (for example, diet and lifetime exposure to estrogen) for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The presence of an abnormal gene represents only one of the risk factors for these cancers.
You can take charge of maintaining breast health. Be diligent about monitoring the health of your breasts and staying current with self breast exams, clinical breast exams, and mammograms. Consult your doctor for advice on other preventative measures that you can consider.
The key is to not allow yourself to be consumed with worry. A healthy lifestyle and a positive attitude are great contributors to wellness.
1. American Cancer Society. Glossary.