How common are breast and prostate cancer?
The lifetime risk of a woman living in the UK developing breast cancer is now 1 in 8. Prostate cancer also affects 1 in 8 men but less is known about what causes it.
Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
With early detection, 90% of patients diagnosed with prostate and breast cancer can be long term survivors.
Does cancer run in families?
A small fraction of people diagnosed with cancer have a family history of cancer. This means that there are multiple people in their family affected with cancer, and this may be because they have inherited a small mistake in a copy of a gene that increases their risk.
The actress Angelina Jolie recently underwent preventative breast and ovarian surgery because her mother died of breast cancer and she had inherited a change in the BRCA1 gene. This has increased the number of people keen to determine if they are also at an increased risk and would benefit from screening or preventative surgery.
I’ve been diagnosed with breast or prostate cancer, what’s the likelihood that my cancer is caused by a faulty gene?
An inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene alteration is identified in approximately 2% of all breast cancer patients, 15% of ovarian cancer patients, and 1% of prostate cancer patients. This is usually identified by a blood test carried out in a regional clinical genetics centre by a doctor or a genetic counsellor when there is also a strong family history of breast, ovarian or prostate cancer.
How can I find out for sure?
The first stage in determining if you might have a faulty gene, is for your doctor to carry out a familial cancer risk assessment. This can be done with CancerPDX - a simple, free and easy to use familial risk calculator.
If you are shown to be potentially at an increased risk, your General Practitioner may refer you to a specialist for further assessment.
What else can I do?
If you also have a family history of cancer, ask your doctor if you can be seen by your local clinical genetics department or family history centre based at your regional teaching hospital or, if you are due surgery, ask your surgeon if you could take part in the 100,000 Genome Project, which is investigating the causes of cancers and rare diseases, and ultimately helping in the development of new treatments.
I have not been diagnosed with breast, ovarian or prostate cancer, but I have a close relative who has. Does this put me at increased risk?
It could and we suggest you speak to your doctor. Your risk particularly increases if:
- Your relatives were diagnosed at a young age or had more than one tumour
- You have more than one affected relative on the same side of the family
- You have Jewish heritage (or African or African Caribbean heritage specifically for prostate cancer)
I don’t have cancer, but how can I know if I’m at increased risk?
If you know your family history of cancer, you can identify your likely risk by answering the questions in the CancerPDX calculator.
Has CancerPDX been tested?
Management guidelines provided in BreastPDX and ProstatePDX are provided by the clinical genetics service of University Hospitals Leicestershire (UHL).
What happens to my data?
CancerPDX does not store any information you input into the CancerPDX calculator without your permission.
Is a CancerPDX risk calculation available for other cancers apart from breast, ovarian and prostate?
We will soon be making available CancerPDX risk calculators for other cancers including familial bowel and familial pancreatic cancer.
To be notified when these are available you can Sign Up.
I want to be proactive and minimise my risk, what else can I do?
There is some evidence that green tea and tomatoes may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
There is limited evidence that breastfeeding and consumption of non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes) are possibly protective against ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding and taking half an hour of exercise 5 times a week can also help to prevent breast cancer.
Apart from preventative breast surgery for women with BRCA gene changes, screening is a good way of detecting breast and prostate cancer at an earlier stage but is more likely to be effective in families at high risk because of either their ethnic background or strong family history of disease.
Where can I find further support?
PROSTaid are a UK Charity run by prostate cancer patients, families, friends and urological professionals. We will give you all the information you need to make your choice of treatment as well as the opportunity to put you in touch with other men who have been successfully treated.
Helpline 0844 8007801 (low Call)
PROSTaid Reg Charity No 1116935, Charitable company No 5953090 March 2013
The National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline and Information Centre has been running now for over 10 years, and has taken thousands of calls worldwide. It aims to provide help and information for those concerned about their family history of breast cancer, and also has a useful database of women prepared to share their own experiences with others.
Helpline 01629 813000 (available 24 hours)