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Medical History

One of the first steps in the process of diagnosing breast cancer is an appointment with a healthcare professional that includes a medical history. The appointment may be scheduled because the patient is experiencing a symptom of breast cancer, such as discovering a lump, thickening or changes to the skin of the breast, or as a follow-up from a screening mammogram.

What is included in a medical history?

A medical history allows the healthcare professional to understand the current state of the patient’s health, as well as past conditions or treatments that may affect the current health of the person. When a healthcare professional takes a medical history, they will ask specific questions (either in written and/or verbal form) about many areas, including1:

  • Any illnesses or chronic conditions
  • Any allergies
  • Past surgeries or medical procedures
  • Results of any tests or scans
  • Current medications, including prescription and over-the-counter
  • Supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, or herbal products
  • Dietary information
  • Exercise habits

Reproductive and menstrual history

Part of your medical history will also include questions on your reproductive and menstrual history, as a woman’s reproductive and menstrual history can also impact her risk for breast cancer. Questions may include at what age you began menstruating, and if you are in menopause, at what age your last period occurred. Reproductive history includes the number of full-term pregnancies and your age at the first full-term pregnancy.

Women who began menstruating before age 12 or who experienced menopause after age 55 are at an increased risk for breast cancer. In addition, women who have never had a full-term pregnancy or who had their first full-term pregnancy after age 30 are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.2

Family medical history

In certain conditions, including breast cancer, a person’s family history of diseases can also be important for a healthcare professional to know. A family medical history can show patterns of certain diseases within members of a family, like breast and ovarian cancer.1

If you have a family history of breast cancer, it’s important to let your healthcare provider know. Mention any close family members who have had breast cancer, including parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, and/or children. An individual who has a first-degree relative (a mother, sister, or daughter) who has had breast cancer is more likely to develop the disease. Women who have a close male relative (related by blood) who has had breast cancer are also at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.2

Use of hormones for menopause

In addition to asking questions about other medications, a medical history may ask about any use of hormonal therapy for menopausal symptoms. Long-term use (more than 5 years) of combined estrogen and progestin hormone therapy for menopause increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.2

  1. Medical history. National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/medical-history. Accessed 8/21/18.
  2. Breast cancer risk in American women. National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/risk-fact-sheet. Accessed 8/21/18.