Family history of cancer and risk of breast cancer in the Black Women's Health Study

Cancer Causes Control. 2009 Nov;20(9):1733-7. doi: 10.1007/s10552-009-9425-9.


Introduction: Relatively little research has been conducted on familial breast cancer in African American women.

Methods: Data from the Black Women's Health Study, a prospective cohort study of African American women, were used to assess breast cancer risk in relation to family history of cancer. Since 1995, participants have completed biennial postal questionnaires on health status, risk factors, and family history of cancer. Cox proportional hazards analyses were used to calculate incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for family history of breast and other types of cancer.

Results: Among 57,364 participants who were cancer-free at baseline, 1,306 incident breast cancer cases occurred during 12 years of follow-up. The IRR for a first-degree family history of breast cancer relative to no family history was 1.78 (95% CI 1.55-2.06). IRRs varied by the age at diagnosis, from 1.60 (>or=age 55) to 2.76 (<age 35). Results were consistent across subtypes of breast tumor defined by estrogen and progesterone receptor status. Breast cancer risk was also associated with family history of colon cancer (IRR 1.35, 95% CI 1.12-1.63) and possibly with family history of leukemia (IRR 1.42, 95% CI 0.82-2.46).

Conclusions: These findings indicate a strong familial relationship for breast cancer in African American women. The associations with family history of colon cancer and leukemia warrant further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / genetics
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Receptors, Estrogen / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Progesterone / biosynthesis
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Progesterone