Breast Cancer: Your History Might Not Be Your Future

Breast cancer family history may not significantly affect outcomes

(RxWiki News) Young women with a family history of breast cancer may be understandably anxious if diagnosed with the disease. But family history may not affect the ultimate outcome.

That's according to a new study from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. In this study, young women who were diagnosed with breast cancer and who also had a family history of the disease were no more likely to have a poor outcome than women without a family history of breast cancer.

The authors of this study said they plan to look at other aspects of genetics related to breast cancer treatment.

“Successful treatment for breast cancer is just as likely in young patients with a family history of breast cancer, as in those without a family history,” said lead study author Ramsey I. Cutress, an associate professor of breast surgery at the University of Southampton, in a press release. “Patients with a family history of breast cancer can therefore be reassured that their family history alone does not mean that their outcome will be worse.”

Breast cancer is most likely to occur in women who are 40 to 70 years old, Dr. Cutress and team noted. However, younger women — ages 15 to 39 — can also develop breast cancer.

Hereditary factors do appear to matter in some breast cancers. For instance, women in this study with a family history of breast cancer were more likely to present with more advanced tumors.

Genetic factors, such as certain gene mutations, may also increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

"It is unclear [whether genetic factors or environment] is more significant," said Adam M. Brufsky, MD, PhD, a board-certified doctor of internal medicine and medical oncology and associate director of clinical investigation for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, in an interview with dailyRx News. "We know, however, that about 15-20% of breast cancer is due to genetic factors. We are not sure about the rest."

Past research on family history and breast cancer survival has come up with inconsistent results. Dr. Cutress and colleagues wanted to settle the question of the tie between family history and breast cancer survival in young women.

These researchers studied data on 2,850 women younger than 41 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and treated in the UK. They studied data on patients’ personal characteristics, family history, tumors and treatment over a 15-year period.

Breast cancer was no more likely to recur (come back) after treatment in women with a family history of the disease than in those who had no family history, Dr. Cutress and team found. A family history of breast cancer did not appear to affect survival rates.

Women with a family history of breast cancer were more likely to have more extensive surgery, such as a complete mastectomy (breast removal), Dr. Cutress and colleagues found.

“In general, younger women have a greater fear of breast cancer recurrence than older women," Dr. Cutress and team wrote. "Furthermore, patients with a strong family history may have a high level of anxiety about recurrence and death from breast cancer after witnessing cancer within their family. Patients who present with breast cancer in the context of a personal family history of the disease may seek reassurance from their surgeon that they are at no higher risk from recurrence or death from this breast cancer than similar patients with no family history.”

This study was published May 20 in the British Journal of Surgery.

The Wessex Cancer Trust and Cancer Research UK funded this research. Study author Dr. E. R. Copson received honoraria from Roche. Dr. Cutress received honoraria from GSK and Pfizer. All of these companies make drugs used in cancer treatment.

Review Date: 
May 19, 2015