Exploring your family history: First steps

If you are concerned about your risk of breast cancer and family history, you should visit your GP (or breast care team) to discuss this.

They will be able to look at the pattern of cancers in your family to see whether you might be at increased risk of breast cancer. If they think you might be, they can refer you to specialist services so this can be looked into further. Both women and men can be referred, if eligible.

If you have very little information about your blood relatives (e.g. because you’re adopted), this will make it difficult for your doctor to assess your breast cancer risk, although you are still able to seek their advice if you have concerns about breast cancer.

It is up to you whether or not you choose to explore your family history and you may want to discuss this with relatives.

Please answer the questions below to find out the first steps to exploring your family history…

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Is a relative already in contact with a family history or genetics clinic, about their family history?
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Are you currently receiving care from a breast care team (at a hospital)?
Referral by your GP
If you have not personally had a diagnosis of breast cancer but are aware that other blood relatives have had the disease, the first step to exploring your family history is usually to visit your GP. They can assess whether the pattern of cancers in your family suggests you may be at increased risk of developing breast cancer.

If they think your family history needs further assessment, they will refer you to specialist to look into this further. This specialist might be at a family history clinic or a genetics clinic.

Care you can expect
  • If you visit your GP with concerns about your family history or breast symptoms, they should take details of any cancers in your first degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) and second degree relatives (aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, half-brothers and half-sisters and grandchildren)
  • You should have the opportunity to talk through any concerns about your family history
  • They should refer you to a specialist if your family history looks significant and let you know what happens next in writing
  • You should be given information including how to check your breasts, on breast cancer risk and how your lifestyle can affect your risk, and places to get more support and information
Related information
Download a factsheet on the information your GP will ask you for if you go to discuss your family history
Download PDF
Find out if you are likely to meet the criteria for referral to specialist family history or genetics services
Read more
Get advice on having discussions with relatives about your family's history of cancer
Read more
If a relative of yours has looked into their family history already and has been referred to a family history or genetics clinic, you may be able to look into your breast cancer risk and genes too.

Contact your GP to find out how you can be referred to a specialist to discuss this. Alternatively, if you know the details of your relative's clinic, you may be able to contact them directly to ask about the process for how you can be referred.

You can choose whether or not this is something you wish to do, and may want to talk to relatives before making a decision.
Related information
What happens when you visit a family history or genetic clinic?
Read more

Genetic testing may identify whether you have inherited a faulty gene that runs in your family.
Read more

Get advice on having discussions with relatives about your family's history of breast cancer
Read more
Referral by your breast care team
If you have recently had a diagnosis of breast cancer and there are signs that this might be linked to family history (for example because you were diagnosed below the age of 40, or you have relatives with breast or ovarian cancer) this could mean there's a higher risk of breast cancer in your family. If it appears you have a significant family history, you will be eligible for specialist services to look into you and your family's risk further. Your breast cancer team can discuss with you whether or not you'd like to do this.

Some women in this situation wish to look into their family history to help them decide about their treatment options. Others choose to wait until a later time (after their breast cancer treatment) to explore their family history or decide not to look into it at all. It's entirely your decision if and when you explore your family history, and you may want to talk to your family about the decision. If you decide to explore your family history, your breast care team (usually your surgeon or oncologist) can refer you to a specialist in a family history clinic or genetics clinic.

Care you can expect
  • Your breast care team should take details of any cancers in your first degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) and second degree relatives (aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, half-brothers and half-sisters and grandchildren
  • They should refer you to a specialist if your family history suggests you may be at increased risk of another breast cancer, and let you know what happens next in writing
  • You should be given information on how to check your breasts, on breast cancer risk and lifestyle choices, and places to get more support and information
  • Your breast care team should let you know to update them if your family history changes (this should not affect your breast cancer treatment or follow up)
Related information
Download a factsheet on the information your breast care team will ask you for if you want to discuss your family history

Download PDF

Find out if you are likely to meet the criteria for referral to specialist family history or genetics services

Read more

Get advice on having discussions with relatives about your family's history of breast cancer

Read more

Referral by your GP
If there are signs your breast cancer could be related to a family history (for example because you were diagnosed with breast cancer below the age of 40 or have relatives with breast or ovarian cancer) this could mean there's a higher risk of breast cancer in your family. If it appears you have a significant family history, you will be eligible for specialist services to look into you and your family's risk further. If you want to explore your family history and are no longer receiving care from your breast care team, your GP can help.

If your GP thinks the pattern of cancers in your family suggests you and other relatives may be at increased risk of breast cancer, they can refer you to a specialist.

This specialist might be at a family history clinic or a genetics clinic.

Care you can expect
  • If you visit your GP with concerns about your family history or breast symptoms, they should take details of any cancers in your first degree relatives (parents, siblings and children) and second degree relatives (aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, half-brothers and half-sisters and grandchildren)
  • You should have the opportunity to talk through any concerns about your family history
  • They should refer you to a specialist if your family history suggests you may be at increased risk of another breast cancer, and let you know what happens next in writing
  • You should be given information including about how to check your breasts, on breast cancer risk and how your lifestyle can affect your risk, and places to get more support and information
  • Your GP should also let you know to return if any new cancers occur in your family, as this could alter your assessment
Related information
Download a factsheet on the information your GP will ask you for if you go to discuss your family history
Download PDF

Find out if you are likely to meet the criteria for referral to specialist family history or genetics services
Read more

Get advice on having discussions with relatives about your family's history of cancer
Read more

Please note that we do not store your answers, or track them in any way.

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