Talk with a Doctor If Breast or Ovarian Cancer Runs in Your Family

The Basics
If family members have had breast or ovarian cancer, ask a doctor about your risk.

Take Action!
Write down your family health history and take it with you to the doctor.

Start Today: Small Steps

The Basics

Pages: 1 2 3

If your family has a history of breast or ovarian cancer, talk with your doctor or nurse about it. You may be at increased risk for developing these and other types of cancer.

Talk with your doctor about genetic counseling and genetic testing.

Genetic counseling and genetic testing can help you understand your risk for certain types of cancer that can run in families.

Doctors don’t recommend genetic testing for all women. But you may want to talk about testing with your doctor if you have:

You may also want to ask about genetic testing if you've already had breast or ovarian cancer.

Genetic testing can’t tell you whether or not you'll get cancer – or whether you'll get cancer a second time – but it can show if you have a genetic change that increases your risk. If you do, you and your doctor can discuss options for managing your risk.

What is genetic counseling?

Genetic counseling is when a trained health professional talks with you about your family health history and helps you decide if genetic testing makes sense for you.  

Find out more about genetic counseling for breast and ovarian cancer.

What is genetic testing?

Genetic tests help doctors look for certain harmful mutations (changes) in genes that get passed down in families.

If you have one of these mutations in certain genes, like BRCA1 or BRCA2, you're more likely to develop breast cancer and ovarian cancer. You're also more likely to develop these cancers at a younger age. And you may also be at increased risk for developing some other kinds of cancer.

To learn more, check out:

Talk with your doctor about early screening for breast cancer.

Some women with an increased risk of breast cancer start getting screened at a younger age – or get screenings more often than women with normal risk. This can help catch breast cancer early, when it's easier to treat. Talk with your doctor about when and how often to get screened.

Ask if medicine or surgery could lower your breast cancer risk.

Scientists are studying certain medicines to find out if they can lower breast cancer risk in women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Taking medicines to lower cancer risk is called chemoprevention.  Learn more about medicines that may reduce breast cancer risk External Links Disclaimer Logo.

Some women with an increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer can have surgery to lower their risk. Learn more about surgery to reduce breast cancer risk.

There are side effects and possible harms from both surgery and chemoprevention, so it’s important to talk with your doctor or nurse about your cancer risk and the different options.

Take Action!

Pages: 1 2 3

Start by talking with a doctor or nurse about your cancer risk.

Talk with a doctor about your family health history.

Use this family health history tool to keep track of the diseases that run in your family. Share the information with your doctor or nurse.

Take this list of questions about genetic testing to your next doctor’s appointment.

Ask about ways to lower your risk.

All women can take steps to lower their risk for breast or ovarian cancer. Ask your doctor for advice. You can also learn more by checking out these resources:

What about cost?

The  Affordable Care Act requires most health insurance plans to cover these services for women at higher risk of getting breast cancer:

Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get counseling at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to learn more. For information about other preventive services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Make a list of questions for the doctor or genetic counselor.

You may want to ask your doctor or a genetic counselor these questions:

Before you get tested, think about how you may feel.

Your doctor or counselor can help you think about what you will learn and  how the results will affect you and your family. External Links Disclaimer Logo 

Here are some questions to think about:

You and your doctor can decide whether genetic counseling and testing makes sense for you. But whatever you decide, remember that all women still need regular cancer screenings and checkups.

Get tested for breast cancer.

If you're age 50 to 74, get tested for breast cancer every 2 years. If you're age 40 to 49, talk with your doctor about when and how often to get tested.

Get your well-woman visit.

Get a well-woman visit every year. Use this visit to talk with your doctor or nurse about important screenings and services to help you stay healthy.

Start Today: Small Steps

Accessible version