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Kate asked...

My cousin has recently recovered from breast cancer and had received the all clear in March this year. Unfortunately she has now been diagnosed with secondary tumours on her liver and lungs and her prognosis is extremely bad. My aunt (my father's sister) died at a similar age after contracting breast cancer, being successfully treated and then suffering a brain haemorage caused by a brain tumour. I understand that my cousin's daughter and my cousin's brother's daughter will be heavily monitored for any signs of cancer in the coming years. I think this is probably due to the type of breast cancer that my aunt and cousin have suffered from. My question is whether I should have any screening or am I too loosely related i.e. i am separated genetically from the situation by my dad if that makes sense. Our grandmother passed away essentially from old age at the age of 95.

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The Answer

I am so sorry to hear that your aunt and cousin have suffered from breast cancer in this way. The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer for all women is 1 in 8. This is already high, so all women should be aware of any changes in their breasts and report any changes early to their doctor. In the UK there are guidelines to help decide which patients need to be referred for extra testing and screening.

It is important to gather all the information about your family history. This needs to include breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It is also important to know the ages of the family members affected and if any males have been affected, because it increases the risk. Your doctor will be able to go through this with you.

An aunt is a second degree relative and a cousin is a third degree relative. (A first degree relative would be a sibling, parent or child.) Providing there are no more sufferers in your family, and I really hope there are not, you are not at any higher risk than normal, according to the current guidelines. Make sure you examine your own breasts regularly and attend the national screening programme when it is offered to you.

Answered by Dr Emmajane Down.

 

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