Hereditary Breast Cancer

About 5 percent to 10 percent of all cancers are caused by an inherited gene mutation. These gene mutations tend to be passed down from generation to generation.

Although the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common hereditary breast cancer genes, there are many different genes, including ATM, CDH1, CHEK2, PALB2, PTEN, and TP53, that have been associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. Researchers are still working to discover additional genes that may affect whether someone develops cancer.

BRCA gene mutations are known for their breast cancer risk, but they also cause an increased risk for ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, and other cancers.

It is important to learn as much as you can about your family history on both your mother’s and father’s sides. Breast cancer is just as likely to be inherited from your father’s family as it is from your mother’s family. 


Because early detection is key, you should also seek regular clinical examinations. For women between 20 and 39 years of age, national guidelines recommend a clinical breast exam every one to three years.

For women 40 or older, guidelines recommend a yearly mammogram in addition to a clinical breast exam every one to three years. Women with dense breasts should also have an MRI or ultrasound exam to aid in detection.


Signs and symptoms of hereditary breast cancer may include:

  • A diagnosis of breast cancer at age 50 or younger
  • Breast cancer in both breasts at any age
  • Both breast and ovarian cancer
  • Male breast cancer
  • "Triple-negative" breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and breast cancer before age 60
  • Two or more relatives on the same side of the family with breast cancer

Screening and Counseling

In addition to regular exams, screening and prevention options are available for patients and family members identified as having a high risk for hereditary breast cancer. People who already have cancer could benefit from the ability to reduce the risk of second cancers.

One of UT Southwestern Medical Center’s cancer genetics counselors can work with you to determine your risk of having a hereditary form of breast cancer. Your counselor may also suggest behavioral or environmental changes to reduce your risk, or may provide information and referral for treatment options.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a cancer genetics specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.