Find our more about our guide to UK services for people with a family history of breast cancer.

Our family history guide has been developed to help you understand what a family history of breast cancer is, and what it means for you and your family.

Most women in the UK have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. However, if you have a family history of breast cancer, you and some other members of your family may have a higher than average risk of developing the disease.  

It’s not easy to give a single definition of a family history of breast cancer, because there are many different patterns. However, you might have an increased risk of developing the disease if:

  • several blood relatives in your family have had breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
  • or, you have blood relatives who were diagnosed with breast cancer at a relatively young age (e.g. under 40).

Breast cancer is a common disease, so having one relative diagnosed over the age of 40 is not unusual and would not normally suggest that other family members are at increased risk.  However, about five to fifteen in every 100 women with breast cancer have a family history which is likely to have contributed to why they developed the disease. It’s important to look into any patterns of other cancers in the family too, because in some cases these can also indicate an increased risk of breast cancer in the family.

For each 100 women with breast cancer in the UK:

Family history of breast cancer

About 90 (estimates vary from 85 to 95) will not have a significant family history. About 10 will have a family history that may explain why they developed breast cancer. Of these:

Family history of breast cancer About five will have a fault in a gene known to be linked to breast cancer (eg BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53)

Family history of breast cancer About five will have no known genetic reason for their family's increased risk

If you do have a family history, it doesn’t mean you will definitely get breast cancer, but it does mean your risk may be higher than for people without a family history. It may also mean you could develop breast cancer at a younger age.

NHS services are available to help women and men in this situation. Specialists are able to assess whether you are at increased risk and offer advice and support. If you do have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, there are options available to help reduce that risk and make sure the disease is spotted early if it does occur.

Family history guide

Our new guide provides tailored information on the national standards of services and care for women and men who have a family history of breast cancer, as well as information on genetic testing and preventative options. You can also hear from women who have a family history of breast cancer and have shared their experience.

We hope that it will help enable and support you in making informed decisions about your care.

Visit our family history guide

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