There are many factors that may contribute to the development of breast cancer in women - the environment, age and lifestyle can all impact a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
By far, the greatest risk factors for breast cancer are female gender and age. Additional factors may include early age at a woman’s first period, age at their first live birth, whether a person had any first degree relatives (mother or sisters) who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and any history of biopsies that may have been atypical.
Patients and their physicians are developing a greater awareness that genetics may play a significant role in the risk and development of breast cancer in certain individuals. Even if a person lives a relatively healthy life, one’s genes may still have a great impact upon the risk of breast cancer in certain individuals.
There are multiple genes which may play a role in the risk of breast cancer. The most commonly known genes that can predispose a woman to breast and ovarian cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2. All of us have these genes, but approximately five to 10 percent of patients with breast or ovarian cancer have inherited a mutation within one of these genes. A BRCA mutation carrier may have up to an 87 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 25 to 44 percent lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. These numbers seem alarming, but these specific gene mutations do not guarantee a cancer diagnosis.
There are many ways that individuals can be proactive about preventing or helping to diagnose breast cancer early:
- Be aware of your own body and what is normal for you, so that if something changes, you can bring it to the attention of your doctor
- Undergo an annual screening mammogram beginning either at age 40, or five to ten years before the earliest diagnosis of breast cancer in your family
- Undergo an annual clinical breast examination with your doctor
- Take the opportunity to speak with a genetic counselor about your risk if you have had early (premenopausal) breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer, if there are multiple breast and/or ovarian cancers in your family (maternal or paternal), or if you have great concerns about your risk of breast cancer
Our genes are unique to each of us. Knowing this, it’s important to understand that just because a family member has breast cancer does not mean a relative also will have the disease. By living a healthy lifestyle, being aware of your body and undergoing appropriate regular screenings, risks can be lessened. Enhanced screenings that aim to find cancer early also can make the difference in how treatment is pursued among physicians and breast cancer patients.
The Cancer Risk & Prevention Program at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center tailors its services toward women and men with different needs. Its main goal is to help individuals lower their risks of cancer and to guide them to optimal screening and prevention tools. Patients are given the opportunity to construct a family tree, analyze cancer patients within their family, and discuss the implications of genetic testing and much more. The program also serves to educate and counsel patients on options for early detection and prevention.
By taking the time to learn and educate yourself and other family members, you can be prepared with the tools you need to live a healthy, happy life.