If your mother had breast cancer, you may wonder whether you will get the same type of breast cancer. You may be worried at each checkup and mammogram as you answer the typical questions about the health history of your parents and siblings. How important is it to know what type of breast cancer she had? This may be difficult to know if she died many years ago.
It is important to know the fact that your mom had breast cancer. If your mother and her mother (your maternal grandmother) had breast cancer, or if other family members had breast or ovarian cancer, it may mean you have an increased risk. It could be an indication that the BRCA mutation might run in your family and, if it does, you might consider genetic testing. Be sure your doctor knows this part of your health history.
There Isn’t Always a Family Resemblance
Mothers and daughters can develop different types of breast cancer, so knowing the exact diagnosis is not the most important detail. If she died of breast cancer decades ago, she may have been diagnosed at a late stage of cancer, or the tumor may have been aggressive. Keep in mind that most cases of breast cancer are not hereditary. And remember that detection and treatments have improved greatly in recent years.
Looking Into the Past
If your mother is still alive, ask her to give you details from her medical records. If she has passed, her medical records are protected by HIPAA privacy regulations and you will only have access to what she may have kept at home. See whether her spouse or your siblings have any of her medical papers.
If there are no paper records to consult, try asking family members what they remember. Start with close relatives—her siblings, first-degree cousins, and her father’s side of the family. If possible, ask your mother’s spouse for recollections of that time. Relatives may remember certain details about her case, like the stage, diagnosis, treatments, or surgeries. You might try asking for the name of her doctor, and see if you can find any clues that way.
Live Healthy Right Now
What matters most concerning your own health is this: Stay vigilant. Take charge and lower your own risk. Make sure your healthcare team knows that your mother had this disease. Don’t skip annual screenings. Live as healthy a life as you can manage. Enjoy each day that you feel well and are well. Refuse to live in fear. More and more people are surviving this disease, finding it earlier, and treating it more effectively. Don’t define yourself by your health history or your mammogram results. You’re much more than that.
Defeat Your Fear of Mammograms
By keeping current on screening, chances are that if anything shows up, the best outcome would be “no cancer.” If a lump is found, it would be tiny and could be successfully treated. Be grateful for each year you are healthy. Progress in breast cancer treatment now means that almost 90 percent of patients diagnosed will survive for 5 years, and if detected as a localized tumor, you have a 98.7 percent chance of surviving.