Worries about passing on an altered gene

If you or your partner is a gene carrier (have inherited an altered gene that increases the risk of breast cancer), you may have concerns about passing on the gene to future children.  

If you have children, there is a 50% chance that they will inherit the altered gene. Your genetic counsellor will be able to talk through the options that might be available to you and your partner to avoid passing on the gene, but many people choose to have children without any fertility interventions. 

Pre-natal diagnosis (PND)

There are two procedures that can look for a known altered gene while you are pregnant – chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis. Both of these procedures are done by a doctor specialising in foetal medicine (the care of babies while they are still in the womb). However, these two procedures are not routinely available and won’t be suitable for every gene carrier.

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)

If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant, you may want to talk to your genetic counsellor about pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). PGD involves going through an in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) cycle, where an egg is removed from the woman's ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, can be checked for the known altered gene. Only embryos that do not carry the breast cancer gene will be transferred to the womb.

PGD isn’t available to everyone on the NHS. As with IVF, couples must meet set criteria including age, weight, whether you have other children from the same relationship and whether you or your partner smoke.

PGD is currently only offered in a few hospitals in the UK. You may need to travel some distance for the treatment.

Egg or sperm donation

You may also want to consider egg or sperm donation (depending on which parent has the altered gene) to avoid passing on an altered gene.

Further information

Planning a family is a very personal decision. You may want to find out more information from Genetic Alliance UK, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Centre for PGD and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

If you already have children, you may find it useful to read our information on talking to your children about having an altered gene that runs in the family.

Last reviewed: March 2017
Next planned review begins 2019

Your feedback