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Breast Problems You Can Pass On to Your Children

Breast Problems You Can Pass On to Your Children
Your breasts are designed to nourish your children with the colostrum and milk you pass on to them from birth until they’re weaned. But if you have problems with your breasts, including breast cancer, they may affect your children, too.

Any woman in the United States who’s at average risk for breast cancer has a 13% chance of developing the disease at some point in her life. Only about 5-10% of breast cancers are due to genetics. However, certain genetic mutations, such as those in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, are associated with a high risk for breast cancer.

In addition to breast cancer, other conditions that affect your children’s breasts can be handed to them with their genetic makeup. The more you know about your own breasts, through breast screening and possible genetic screens, the more you can protect your children, too.

At Mass Medical Imaging in Lake Forest, Illinois, our expert doctors Joseph Calandra, MD, and Karen Mass, MD, recommend regular screening mammograms for all women over the age of 40. However, if you have a significant risk for breast cancer, such as a gene mutation, you may need to start at age 35.

If you’re at risk for breast cancer or other breast conditions, will you pass those risks to your children? Here’s the information you need.

Hereditary breast cancer

Even though most cases of breast cancer aren’t due to genetics, certain inheritable mutations can put you in the high-risk category. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes normally help your body fight cancer. 

But if you have mutations in these genes, they can’t do their job and protect you. Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 don’t just increase your own risk for breast cancer; if you pass them to your children, their risk increases, too. In addition, these same mutations raise the risk for you and your daughters of developing ovarian and other types of cancers.

Just as not having a family history of breast cancer doesn’t protect most women from developing it themselves, simply having genetic mutations doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to get cancer. It does, however, significantly raise your risk.

Approximately 50 of 100 women with the mutation will get breast cancer before age 70, compared with just 7 out of 100 in the general population without the mutation. A family history of breast cancer may raise your risk more.

If breast cancer runs in your family, or if you already know that you have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, we recommend early and yearly mammograms. The same would apply to your female children.

In some cases, we might recommend anti-estrogens to block the overproduction of this hormone, which can raise your risk for breast cancer. Although it’s controversial, you might possibly benefit from prophylactic mastectomy.

Dense breasts

Another risk factor for breast cancer that is often genetic is having dense breasts. Dense breasts contain more breast tissue than fat, which can make it difficult to distinguish cancers on mammograms. Dense breasts are only diagnosable with a mammogram; they can’t be felt on palpation or visualized without an X-ray or other imaging study.

If you have dense breasts, we may recommend a diagnostic mammogram to get a closer look at areas that aren’t clear or are suspicious for cancer. Having dense breasts doesn’t mean that you have cancer, but it does raise your risk. If you have dense breasts, your female children might, too.

Fibrocystic breasts

Fibrocystic breasts are those in which the breast tissue feels lumpy or ropy. You can feel the cysts on palpation. 

Fibrocystic breasts may be more prone to tenderness during or before menstruation. However, they’re often symptomless. Although fibrocystic breasts are a benign condition, you may pass them on to your children.

Lactation difficulties

If you had trouble producing enough milk or milk of high enough quality, genetics may have played a role. Often milk production is influenced by factors such as maternal nourishment and exposure to stress. However, other than those modifiable lifestyle factors, you may have inherited a tendency to produce less or poorer quality milk.

In addition, you could have inverted nipples that point inward or downward that make it hard for your infant to latch onto your breast. About 10% of inverted nipples are due to genes. You could pass that tendency to both your female and male children. Inverted nipples can affect one or both breasts.

Do you know your breast cancer risk, and whether your genes put your children at higher risk? Start with a screening mammogram today by calling our friendly team or using our online appointment form.