Breast Cancer: Know Your Genetic Background and Lifestyle Risks
October is breast cancer awareness month. As a female oncologist, I am very aware of the importance of this topic. In the US and across the globe, breast cancer remains the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women. In fact, one in eight women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.(1)
Many factors contribute to the likelihood of an individual developing breast cancer, including genetic composition, family history, environmental factors and behavior during their life.
How Your Genetic Background Effects Risk
A person’s genetic background and family composition are not modifiable factors. Approximately 15% of breast cancer patients have a positive family history of breast cancer. About 5-10% of patients have an underlying hereditable genetic mutation that influences their risk of acquiring breast cancer during their lifetime.(1) Breast cancer patients that are diagnosed at a younger age have a higher risk of genetic mutation, and genetic testing may be appropriate. Contact the Cancer Genetics Program at CHI Health if you have questions about your risk.
Why You Need a Screening Mammogram
Studies show that 85% of breast cancer patients do not have a family history of breast cancer but breast cancer screening recommendations are applied to all women, not just those with a positive family history. Various societies have published recommendations for breast cancer screening. At the minimum, screening mammography is recommended every 1-2 years when age 45-74 years old.(2,3) Breast cancer screening guidelines have allowed for earlier diagnosis of breast cancer, and an earlier diagnosis makes treatment more effective and increases long-term survival.
Other Breast Cancer Risks
Other risk factors for breast cancer are effected by environment and behavior. Some of these risk factors that can be reduced include:
- a sedentary lifestyle
- post-menopausal obesity (BMI of greater than 30)
- frequent alcohol consumption
- exogenous hormone utilization like those commonly found in oral contraceptives or menopausal hormone therapy
Patients can reduce these risks by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly (with a goal of exercising more than 3 hours/week) and utilizing exogenous hormones judiciously or not at all.(4)
What Happens After Breast Cancer Diagnosis?
If a breast cancer diagnosis does occur, there are many questions that immediately arise. An individual’s pathology results and clinical findings determines the stage and ultimately the treatment recommendations. Each person’s breast cancer is unique, and treatment needs to be tailored accordingly. Many different treatment modalities can be utilized, including surgery, radiation, endocrine therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and even immunotherapy. An individual’s treatment team will provide advice regarding the treatment modalities and sequencing which will provide the best possible clinical outcome.
Through regular breast cancer screening and a focus on a healthy lifestyle, each individual can make strides to reduce their risk of a breast cancer diagnosis. If a breast cancer diagnosis does occur though, it is important to know that you are not alone. Thousands of women have gone before you on this journey. Their bravery in the fight has allowed the scientific community to make great strides in treatment recommendations, enhancing the effectiveness of treatment while reducing associated toxicities. The team at the CHI Health also stands ready to support and guide you.
October is breast cancer awareness month. Please encourage the women around you to mitigate their risk factors and support each other. Schedule a mammogram. Go for a brisk walk. Send a note of encouragement to a breast cancer patient or survivor. Together, we can continue to make strides toward winning this important battle.
1. US Breast Cancer Statistics, Breast Cancer.org. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics
2. Breast Cancer: Screening, US Preventative Services Task Force. https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/recommendation/breast-cancer-screening
3. American Cancer Society Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer, American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/american-cancer-society-recommendations-for-the-early-detection-of-breast-cancer.html
4. What are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
Sarah L. Creamer, MD is an Oncology/Hematology provider at the CHI Health Regional Cancer Center at St. Francis and Good Samaritan.