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Remember Dad’s Side of the Family When Evaluating Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk

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March 23, 2016

When it comes to evaluating a woman's risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, her father's family history of cancer is just as important to take into consideration as her mother's. Women may not understand that a paternal family history of breast and ovarian cancer is a risk factor for those diseases, so they may not volunteer the information unless directly questioned about it.

To better understand their risk, women who seek genetic counseling need to provide a complete and accurate family history—or pedigree—for their genetics specialist or genetic counselor to evaluate. The information contained in the pedigree will help the genetics professional determine whether genetic testing for BRCA mutations should be considered.

Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are linked to aggressive breast cancer, as well as ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer in women; prostate cancer in men; and pancreatic, colon, and skin (melanoma) cancer in people of either sex. Men are just as likely as women to have BRCA mutations. Like women, men have a 50% chance of passing BRCA mutations to each of their daughters and/or sons. Therefore, a woman who has a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer on her father's side has the same risk of having a BRCA mutation as a woman with a strong family history of those cancers on her mother's side.

"I see a lot of people who have all this family history [of cancer] on their father's side, but they're not worried about it," said Jessica Cary, a certified genetic counselor at New England Cancer Specialists in a recent online article in Catching Health. "We've seen [the BRCA genes mutations] passed on equally from father or mother. If a man's mother had ovarian cancer and he has daughters, there is a possibility that he could be a carrier and pass on the mutation to his daughters."

According to the American Cancer Society, BRCA mutation testing should be considered when a person's personal or family history includes risk factors associated with a higher chance of having a harmful mutation. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Breast cancer before the age 50
  • Cancer in both breasts
  • Multiple cases of breast cancer
  • Breast and ovarian cancer in the same woman, the same female relative or in the same family
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity
  • Breast cancer in a man

The National Society of Genetic Counselors offers tools and tips on their webpage for Collecting and Understanding Your Family History. These can be helpful in gathering health information from both the maternal and paternal sides of the family to accurately determine risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used. To access online sources, copy and paste the URL into your browser.

(January 26 2016) Atwood, Diane. What is your family's risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer? You have to look at the male side, too. Catching Health. Available online at Accessed March 8, 2016.

(April 1, 2015) American Cancer Society. BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing. Available online at Accessed March 8, 2016.

(October 20, 2015) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Does Breast or Ovarian Cancer Run in Your Family? Available online at Accessed March 8, 2016.

National Society of Genetic Counselors. Your Genetic Health. Available online at Accessed March 8, 2016.

(©2016) Children Can Inherit Abnormal Breast Cancer Genes From Father? Available online at Accessed March 8, 2016.

(October 16, 2014) Schapira, Lidia MD. Decoding Breast Cancer Risk: BRCA and Beyond. Medscape Oncology. Available online at Accessed March 8, 2016.

(October 2015) Genetics Home Reference. BRCA1. Available online at Accessed March 8, 2016.

(October 2015) Genetics Home Reference. BRCA2. Available online at Accessed March 8, 2016.