Today former news anchor Katie Couric revealed that she has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Her announcement on social media read:
“Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States. On June 21st, I became one of them.” You can read her full post here. Seeing this headline and realizing that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is just a few days off, Dr. Favor wanted to pass along some important facts about breast cancer risk and breast care.
Dr. Favor emphasizes that the latest strategies against breast cancer include identifying women at higher risk and reducing risk where possible. Having recently returned from an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ clinical care update in Washington DC, she hopes that all women will make themselves aware of two important facts affecting their own breast health.
Know Your Family History!
It is estimated that perhaps 1 in 4 women qualifies for genetic testing based on her family history. Of patients tested, approximately 5% will test positive for a gene that would increase their likelihood of developing breast cancer. Technology has brought us advanced screening methods such as breast MRI and important preventive medications that may be helpful to patients at higher risk. Gene tests are once-in-a-lifetime tests. Even in cases where insurance provides no coverage, genetic testing has become more affordable (ranging from $150 to $250 for 52 to 84 genes). These newer tools, along with healthy lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, minimizing alcohol consumption), can work together to impact breast cancer risk.
Know Your Breast Density!
Approximately 1 in 10 women will have extremely dense breasts as read on her mammogram. Extremely dense breast tissue increases breast cancer risk by two-fold. These women should discuss with their physicians whether they have additional risk factors (ex. family risk factors, obesity). The physician can evaluate these risks within a statistical model that estimates a woman’s risk level. A woman with a calculated risk of 20% or greater would usually qualify for breast ultrasound or possibly screening MRIs in addition to her regular mammograms.
Together, these tools allow us to tailor a woman’s care to her individual risk.