Assessing breast cancer risk

How will my risk be assessed?

Women and men with a significant family history of breast cancer are able to have an assessment of their breast cancer risk.

Your family history or genetics specialist will look at the information you give them about your family’s history of cancer and use this to estimate your risk of developing breast cancer. As part of your risk assessment, they will also consider other details, such as your age, gender and whether you have had breast or ovarian cancer. They may use a specialist computer package to help with this assessment.

Your specialist can’t tell you whether you definitely will or definitely won’t get breast cancer. They can give you an estimate of how likely it is that you will develop breast cancer in the future, but not all people at increased risk of cancer go on to develop the disease.

Part of your risk assessment may also estimate how likely it is that you have a faulty breast cancer gene. If your specialist estimates that you have at least a one in 10 chance (10% or more) of having a faulty gene, you may have the option to have a genetic test to look into this. Genetic testing is available to both men and women who are eligible.

The results of genetic tests can sometimes help provide a more accurate picture of a person’s risk. In some cases they can confirm whether or not individuals have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, and sometimes other cancers too. For example, women found to carry a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at increased risk of developing breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer, and men with faults in these genes can have an increased risk of breast cancer, prostate and pancreatic cancer.

Care you can expect
  • Your specialist should offer to estimate your personal risk of developing breast cancer, and should also provide information about how accurate this estimate will be.
  • If you decide to have your personal risk predicted, the result should be explained to you clearly, and in different ways if that helps.
  • Where possible, the chances of you carrying a fault in breast cancer genes should be calculated (if you are seen at a genetics clinic, this should definitely happen).
  • You should be sent a written summary of your consultation.

How risk assessment can help women

If you’re a woman, risk assessment can help you understand your personal risk of breast cancer and how it can be managed. This can help you decide whether to have any additional care to help you manage your risk. Depending on your estimated risk, you might be eligible for genetic testing too, to assess your risk further.

Additional care can include:

  • Breast screening to help spot breast cancer early if it does develop (sometimes more frequently or starting at an earlier age than the routine service).
  • Risk-reducing drugs to lower your chances of developing breast cancer.
  • Risk-reducing surgery (removal of your breasts and/or ovaries) to lower your chances of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer (depending on your risk level).

How risk assessment can help men

If you’re a man, risk assessment can help you too. It can confirm whether or not you are eligible for genetic testing.

In some cases, genetic testing can confirm whether or not you are at increased risk of breast cancer and other cancers. For example, men with a BRCA2 fault are at risk of developing prostate cancer, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.

It might also help your family understand whether they could be at increased risk too.

Related information
Find out about the three main levels of breast cancer risk

Read more

Watch our video explaining how breast cancer risk can be passed down in genes

Read more

If you haven’t already been referred to a family history or genetics clinic, find out more about eligibility here

Read more

Back to top