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Is breast cancer hereditary?

Q: My wifes great grandmother, grandmother and aunt died of breast cancer. Her second aunt is also suffering from the same disease. Does this mean that cancer, (especially breast/ovarian), is hereditary? My wife is 30 years old. We had got her Mammography done 3 years back when our son was 1 year old. The reason for getting it done was that there was milkish discharge from the breast though breast feeding was stopped almost 6-9 months back. At that point of time the report was clear. Do we have to get a Mammography done every year? Is there any way in which we can prevent breast cancer? If at all we decide to have a second child and if it is a daughter, what are the chances that the disease will be passed on to her?

A:You have not mentioned whether these breast cancer relatives were from your wife's mothers or fathers side? Furthermore, were any of the cancers occur in both breasts and did these relatives get the cancer at an earlyage (less than 40 years)? In any event it is possible that there is a strong chance that your wifes is a hereditary breast cancer family. Mammography at the age of 30 is not very helpful. Your wife should get herself clinically examined by a breast surgeon every year.
Prevention of breast cancer with drugs (tamoxifen and its analogues) is being investigated but at present no data is available to suggest that they should be used routinely. Removing her ovaries will also reduce her chances considerably, but I think she is at present too young for that. So for the moment a close watch is the best option. If indeed the disease is hereditary, your children, both boys and girls, will have 50% chance of carrying the gene. If any of them do, there is 50% chance that they will pass it down to their offsprings of either sex.
Yes, if you have a daughter who happens to carry the gene (50% chance) then she would be susceptible to developing breast cancer.


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