"One of the most important things younger women can do is to know their family history," says Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, M.D., founder of Best Friends for Life (BFFL) Co., a company dedicated to improving the breast cancer patient experience. "Having a first-degree relative, like a mother or sister, get breast or ovarian cancer at a young age ups your risk. And any ovarian cancer incidents in your family especially ups your risk."
Since detailed medical history isn't exactly dinner-table conversation, it's up to you to ask questions, Dr. Thompson says. "Sometimes families will say 'she died of female cancer' so you need to ask: 'What did she die of, exactly? How old was she when she died?'"
This information is extremely important. "If you have a lot of cancer in your family, we can do a blood test to check for the BRCA genes (the "cancer gene" that runs in families)," Dr. Thompson says, adding that approximately 55-85 percent of women with the BRCA gene will go on to get breast or ovarian cancer.