A new large study finds that prognosis after treatment for women with breast cancer who have a family history of the disease is no worse than it is for other women with breast cancer. The study, which was published recently in the British Journal of Surgery (2015; doi:10.1002/bjs.9816), offers a positive message for women who may worry about their future in light of a family history of breast cancer.

Approximately one-quarter of breast cancer cases in developed countries are believed associated to hereditary factors. It can be scary for a woman to know that she has a family history of the disease, but after diagnosis, what’s her prognosis compared with patients without a family history?

To answer this question, Ramsey Cutress, PhD, an associate professor in breast surgery at the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues conducted an analysis of the Prospective Outcomes in Sporadic versus Hereditary breast cancer (POSH) study. Their analysis included 2,850 women younger than 41 years with breast cancer diagnosed and treated in the UK.

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The study, led by principal investigator Professor Diana Eccles, MD, recorded patients’ personal characteristics, tumor characteristics, treatment, and family history of breast/ovarian cancer over a 15-year period.

The investigators found that there were no significant differences in cancer recurrence rates after treatment for women with a history of breast cancer versus those without.

“Successful treatment for breast cancer is just as likely in young patients with a family history of breast cancer, as in those without a family history,” said Cutress. “Patients with a family history of breast cancer can therefore be reassured that their family history alone does not mean that their outcome will be worse.”

The researchers now plan to investigate whether certain breast cancer gene variants have any impact on the effectiveness of different anticancer treatments.

“There is some evidence in laboratory experiments and observations in humans that BRCA1 gene [mutation] carriers in particular may be more sensitive to certain types of chemotherapy,” said Eccles. “If the outlook is more optimistic than might be expected for these patients, this will help in planning future preventive surgical options at the time of breast cancer treatment.”