The importance of paternal family history in hereditary breast cancer is underappreciated by health care professionals

Oncology. 2003;64(3):220-6. doi: 10.1159/000069309.


Objectives: Cancer genetics clinics have been established in many major oncology centers worldwide in recent years. For such specialized clinics to fulfill their function, primary care physicians need to identify high-risk patients for referral.

Methods: We conducted a survey to evaluate the level of awareness of breast cancer risk factors and hereditary breast cancer among health care providers and patients.

Results: 284 health care professionals, 221 medical students, 104 breast cancer patients and 177 cancer-free women participated in the study. Less than half of the patients with breast cancer were aware of their risk for another breast cancer or of the increased breast cancer risk of their sisters and daughters. Less than one quarter of the health care professionals and medical students knew the importance of paternal family history in the evaluation for hereditary breast cancer. Only about half of the health care professionals and medical students and less than one third of the breast cancer patients and cancer-free women knew about genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomy as options for women at risk for hereditary breast cancer.

Conclusions: Health care providers and medical students lack basic genetic knowledge and are not aware of emerging diagnostic and preventive options for hereditary breast cancer. Inclusion of cancer genetics in the continuing medical education of health care providers is important to promote such awareness.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Fathers*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Medical History Taking / standards
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurses / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires