Skip to Content

Cancer Risks in Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome

Individuals with Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC) caused by an inherited germline mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene  have an increased risk for breast, ovarian cancer and other cancers including cancers of the prostate, pancreas and melanoma.  The following list is gene specific cancer risks for individuals with HBOC. These are life time risks, meaning that a person is not born with stated but rather the risk of the particular cancer accumulates over their lifetime (age 70-80). These cancer risks are based upon current research in HBOC but may change as we learn more about HBOC and other genetic factors that apply to cancer risk.

 BRCA1 and BRCA2 Gene Cancer Risks

  • 40%-80% for breast cancer
  • 11%-40% for ovarian cancer
  • 1%-10% for male breast cancer
  • Up to 39% for prostate cancer
  • 1%-7% for pancreatic cancer

Signs and symptoms of cancers associated with HBOC

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A mass that is painless, hard, and has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. They can even be painful. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass or lump, or breast change checked by a health care professional experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.

Other possible signs of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • A nipple discharge other than breast milk

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer

For many years, ovarian cancer has been called a "silent killer" because it was thought that symptoms did not develop until the disease was advanced. Recently, ovarian cancer experts found that this was not true, and most women had symptoms early on that were dismissed by themselves or their healthcare providers.

The symptoms that are more likely seen in women with ovarian cancer than healthy women include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly or "heart burn"
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

If you have these symptoms for two weeks or more you should contact your doctor.

Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer

Early prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms. Advanced prostate cancers can cause some symptoms, such as:

  • Problems passing urine, including a slow or weak urinary stream or the need to urinate more often, especially at night.
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Trouble getting an erection (impotence)
  • Pain in the hips, back (spine), chest (ribs), or other areas from cancer spread to bones
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet, or even loss of bladder or bowel control from cancer pressing on the spinal cord.

Signs and symptoms of melanoma

The ABCDE rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:

  • A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.nci-vol-7277-72
  • C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.



Knowledge is power.

If you know you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation then you can take steps to prevent these cancers. To learn about screening for these cancers visit our Managing HBOC page under next steps for you.


1. Gene Reviews

2. American Cancer Society