Skip Navigation

Talk with a Doctor if Breast or Ovarian Cancer Runs in Your Family

3 generations of women

The Basics

Talk with your doctor or nurse if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. You may be at higher risk for getting these types of cancer.

Visit these Web sites to learn more about what increases the risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer:

Talk with your doctor about things you might do to lower your breast or ovarian cancer risk.

Talk with your doctor about genetic counseling and testing.
Genetic counseling and genetic testing can help you understand your risk for cancer. Talk with your doctor or nurse about genetic counseling and testing if:

  • Two or more of your close family members (such as parents, sisters, or children) have had breast or ovarian cancer
  • A close family member had breast cancer before age 50
  • A close family member has had cancer in both breasts
  • A family member had both breast and ovarian cancer
  • You have Eastern European Jewish heritage

What is genetic counseling?
Genetic counseling is when a trained health professional talks with you about your family health history. Some diseases, like breast and ovarian cancer, can run in families. Genetic counseling can help you decide whether to get genetic tests.

Find out more about genetic counseling [PDF - 718 KB]. External Links Disclaimer Logo

What is genetic testing?
Genetic tests help doctors look for mutations (changes) in your genes. If you have mutations in certain genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2, you are more likely to get breast or ovarian cancer.

Learn more about:

Drugs can help lower your breast cancer risk.
If you are at high risk of getting breast cancer, you can take drugs to help lower your risk. This is called chemo (“KEE–moh”) prevention.

Two drugs approved by the FDA, called tamoxifen and raloxifene, may help lower your risk of getting breast cancer. Scientists are still studying these drugs to find out if they can lower breast cancer risk in women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

There are side effects and possible risks from taking these drugs, so it’s important to talk with your doctor or nurse about your cancer risk and your prevention options.

Learn more about chemoprevention:

Take Action!

Start by talking to a doctor or nurse about your cancer risk.

Talk with a doctor about your family health history.
Use this family health history tool to keep track of the diseases that run in your family. Take the information with you to the doctor or nurse.

What about cost?
The Affordable Care Act – the health care reform law passed in 2010 – covers these services for women at higher risk of getting breast cancer:

  • BRCA counseling about genetic testing
  • Breast cancer chemoprevention counseling

Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan.

For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Ask questions.
You may want to ask the doctor or genetic counselor these questions:

  • Based on my family’s health history, do I need genetic counseling?
  • What are my chances of having a mutated (changed) gene that could increase my risk for cancer?
  • Besides mutated genes, what other things increase my risk for breast and ovarian cancer?
  • What types of cancer screenings are recommended if I decide not to do genetic testing?
  • If I get tested, who will be able to see my test results?

Take this list of questions about genetic testing to your next doctor’s appointment.

Be prepared.
If you are thinking about genetic testing for breast or ovarian cancer, first think about what you will learn and how the results will affect you and your family. External Links Disclaimer Logo

Here are some questions to think about:

  • If I get tested, will I be more worried about getting sick?
  • Will I share the test results with my spouse or partner? My children? Family and friends? How will they react to the news?
  • Are my children ready to learn new information that may one day affect their health?

Get tested for breast cancer.
If you are age 40 or older, talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them.

Get your well-woman visit every year.
Well-woman visits include a full checkup, separate from any other visit for sickness or injury. Use this visit to talk to your doctor or nurse about other important screenings and services to help you stay healthy.

Note:  Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat ReaderĀ®.
If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the ReaderĀ®.

You May Also Be Interested In

Content last updated on: September 28, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133