Contrary to popular belief, only about 5% to 10% of breast cancers are caused by a single inherited genetic mutation. Most are believed to come from other factors. This section is for those of us who are or may be in that 5-10% group of women with an inherited high risk for breast cancer.


A number of factors in your family history can suggest that you have an inherited risk for developing breast cancer. You probably don’t have all of these, or even most of them. But even one can suggest that you are at a higher risk. It’s critical to know your family history, preferably with the help of a genetic counselor so you can take the Right Action for you.

Talking to your family about breast cancer risk can be a whole other challenge. Get tips on talking to your family about the risks here. Some of the factors in your family history that can indicate an increased risk for breast cancer include:

  • A close relative diagnosed before menopause
  • A close relative diagnosed before age 50
  • Multiple family members affected by breast cancer on the same side of the family
  • Ovarian cancer in the family
  • A family of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent
  • A close relative having both breast and ovarian cancer or multiple breast cancers
  • Male breast cancer in the family


There are a few genes that have been linked to high breast and ovarian cancer risk when they’re abnormal, or have a mutation.

Two of those genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Most women have inherited BRCA genes without mutations. And even most women who develop breast cancer have “normal” BRCA genes. But, if you have inherited a BRCA gene with a mutation, it affects how the gene works. And you’re at a much higher risk for developing breast, and ovarian, cancer than other women.

A genetic test can help you find out if you have BRCA mutations. But it’s recommended only if you have factors in your family that indicate an increased inherited risk for breast cancer. A genetic counselor can help you decide if getting tested for BRCA gene mutations is a good idea for you.