Women Who Are at Higher Risk for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer type for women worldwide. Its development and progression can be influenced by multiple various factors, including increasing age, family history / genetics, density of the breast tissue, history of high risk breast lesions or prior breast cancer, and previous radiation treatment. In this blog post, we will discuss how Boutique Breast Imaging recognizes the importance of empowering women with knowledge about their individual risk factors and offers specialized screenings for those at higher risk. “Every woman needs to be assessed for risk factors prior to the age of 25-30, so that high risk patients may be identified and appropriate screening recommendations can be made for that individual. That said, 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have anyone in their family with a history of breast cancer, and so we look at every mammogram as “potentially high risk” and recommend annual screening beginning at age 40 (as well as controllable lifestyle risk-reducing measures). If a woman undergoes annual screening and reports any unusual changes in her breast tissue, then almost every cancer we detect is curable (96%),” says Dr. Kathryn Pearson.

1) Age

“The greatest risk factor for breast cancer, besides being female, is age.” Breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women over the age of 50. Regular breast screenings should be scheduled beginning at age 40, and continued yearly as long as the patient remains in good health (expected to live at least 10 years). Boutique Breast Imaging encourages women in this age group to undergo regular screenings tailored to their unique needs, ensuring early detection and personalized care.

2) Family history / Inherited genetic mutations

Women with a family history of breast cancer, particularly those with a first-degree relative like a sister, mother, paternal aunt or male relative, are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Some women who carry inherited genetic mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2 are at a higher risk of breast cancer. These genetic mutations are seen in only about 5-10% of women with breast cancer, however are frequently present in women of Ashkenazi Jewish or African-American (particularly Nigerian) descent. Unfortunately, an absence of family history of breast cancer should not be completely reassuring, as 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have absolutely no family history of breast cancer. Boutique Breast Imaging specializes in risk assessment and screening women with a family history, offering Myriad’s myGeneHistory risk assessment with available genetic testing (saliva test) for identified patients.

3) Hormones

Women who have taken hormone replacement drugs over a long duration have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Women who have experienced early onset of menstruation or late menopause are also at an increased risk. Boutique Breast Imaging provides personalized consultations to women considering or currently using hormonal therapies, ensuring informed decisions and proactive breast health management.

4) Previously diagnosed breast disease

Women who have previously been diagnosed with high risk lesions such as atypical hyperplasia, lobular neoplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer in the future. Women with a prior history of breast cancer are also at greater risk of developing cancer in the other breast. Boutique Breast Imaging offers specialized screenings and ongoing monitoring for women with a history of breast diseases, prioritizing early detection and personalized care.

5) Dense breast tissue

Women with dense breast tissue have an increased risk for developing breast cancer (as well as breast cancer being masked – and missed – by the dense white breast tissue seen on mammograms). A woman with extremely dense breast tissue has twice the risk of breast cancer as a woman with fatty or scattered fibroglandular tissue, and about the same risk as a woman with a first-degree relative with breast cancer. Therefore, women with dense breast tissue are recommended for additional supplemental screening, either with breast MRI or bilateral screening breast ultrasound. Boutique Breast Imaging offers radiologist-performed screening breast ultrasound ($300 cash pay as these are not covered by insurance), or Abbreviated Breast MRI may be performed (to be offered soon).

6) Lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and lack of physical activity, can also lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. Fat tissue creates higher levels of circulating estrogen, which may feed a breast cancer cell. Limiting alcohol intake also reduces the risk of breast cancer (as well as recurrent breast cancer), likely related to the alcohol effects on the liver which result in higher circulating estrogen levels that can feed breast cancer cells. Regular exercise and a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of breast cancer (diet is thought to be at least partly responsible for about 30% to 40% of all cancers). Dr. Pearson also strongly believes that adequate Vitamin D levels reduce risk and aggressivity of breast cancer (research and anecdotal experience). Never smoking (or quitting) is extremely important, as smoking increases breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women as well as postmenopausal women. Boutique Breast Imaging encourages women to adopt a healthy lifestyle and provides educational resources to promote physical activity and proper nutrition as integral components of breast health.

As a female, it is essential to take preventive measures that will reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Identification of high-risk factors can significantly increase a woman’s chance of early detection and survival. Women who are at higher risk for breast cancer should be aware of their risk factors and undergo regular yearly screening with possible additional supplemental screening. Boutique Breast Imaging is committed to supporting women in their breast health journey, offering personalized screening recommendations and specialized services, and emphasizing the importance of a healthy lifestyle in reducing the risk of breast cancer. Remember that reducing the risk is an ongoing process, and a healthy lifestyle is a critical aspect of reducing the risk of breast cancer.

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