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Breast cancer families not using services

New research shows women fail to adequately understand their own risk of breast cancer.

Women with a family history of breast cancer were not accessing services available to them, new research has found.

The University of Melbourne study has also showed inconsistency in how these women perceived their own risk of developing the disease, said lead author Dr Louise Keogh.

About five per cent or 300 000 of Australian women have a moderate or potentially high risk for breast cancer due to family history with no identified genetic explanation.

"We have so much media about breast cancer and breast cancer risk, so I was surprised there wasn't a more consistent understanding of what a family history meant," Dr Keogh told reporters in Melbourne last week.

Among two women who believed they had a one in three risk of getting breast cancer, one thought she wouldn't get it and one thought she would, Dr Keogh said.

Evans, a consumer advocate for Breast Cancer Network Australia, said people's reactions varied.

"A lot of people even in very high risk families like to bury their head in the sand and think well it's not going to happen to me," Evans said.

"Others have a fatalistic approach to it. It's just the nature of the individual personalities, in some of these families people think well I'm going to get breast cancer so it doesn't matter what I do."

Royal Melbourne Hospital clinical geneticist Dr Alison Trainer said there were specialised familial cancer services throughout Australia to help women at high risk.

She pointed out that Medicare now funded MRI breast surveillance and there was also the option of risk-reducing medication.

About 12 per cent of Australian women will develop breast cancer over their lifetime.

Of those, five to 10 per cent will have a strong genetic component to it, Trainer said.

None of the 24 women in the study had a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation - the two gene mutations known to be associated with hereditary breast cancer - identified in their family.

"There may be this perception that if you don't have a fault in those you don't have a high risk," Trainer said.

"But we've always known and we do emphasise that there are genes that we have yet to discover and which are currently being discovered.

"I think that from that perspective over the next few years the genetic testing we'll be able to offer these families is going to be able to exponentially increase and I think the service we offer these women will be markedly more effective."


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