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Breast Cancer Risk Assessments: Empower Yourself with Knowledge

Apr. 2, 2024

Discover how a Breast Cancer Risk Assessment can help identify your breast cancer risk factors and guide you toward preventative measures. Schedule your assessment now.


breast cancer risk assessment

Understanding Your Risk for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer remains the most diagnosed cancer among women in the United States, touching the lives of millions and weaving a complex narrative of fear, hope, and resilience. In this intricate dance of cells gone awry, understanding one's personal risk factors becomes not just a measure of prevention but a step towards empowerment.

"Every woman should know their individual breast cancer risk! Breast Cancer affects one in eight women and some women are at even higher risk for developing the disease."

-Alicia Heelan, MD, MS, FSSO 

At UC Health, we are dedicated to guiding you through this journey with our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Program. This initiative isn't merely about identifying risks; it's about arming you with knowledge and actionable insights. Because when it comes to your health, knowledge isn't just power—it's protection.

Navigating the waters of breast cancer statistics can feel overwhelming. Yet, amidst these numbers lies a beacon of hope: the power of early detection.

Studies have shown that catching cancer early can significantly improve treatment success rates. This is why understanding your risk, through both genetics and lifestyle factors, is a crucial step in taking control of your health narrative.

Let us walk you through this path of discovery, where each step taken is a move toward a healthier future. Because at UC Health, we believe in turning statistics into stories of survival and strength.

Key Highlights from this Guide:

Dive deeper into understanding your breast cancer risk and the comprehensive services offered by UC Health with these key sections of our guide:

If you are interested in assessing your personal risk for breast cancer, continue reading and do not hesitate to reach out to us along the way with any questions you have.

When More Than a Mammogram is Needed

Breast cancer screening often starts with a mammogram, a crucial tool in the early detection of breast cancer. However, for some women, a mammogram is just the beginning of their journey in understanding their breast cancer risk. UC Health's Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Program addresses this need by identifying women who, due to specific criteria, may benefit from additional testing.

Who needs more than a mammogram? 

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, carry certain genetic markers, or have had previous abnormal breast biopsy results, you might need to look beyond standard screenings. This doesn't mean a mammogram isn't valuable; it means your path to ensuring your breast health is thorough may require additional steps.

The goal is clear: to catch any signs of cancer at its earliest and most treatable stage. For women who meet these criteria, our program offers a comprehensive look into their personal risk factors, going beyond the surface to provide a detailed understanding of their unique situation.

Our commitment is to ensure you have all the necessary information and support to make informed decisions about your health. Because when it comes to fighting breast cancer, the right knowledge at the right time can make all the difference.

recognizing breast cancer symptoms

Recognizing Breast Cancer Symptoms

Awareness of breast cancer symptoms is a crucial part of early detection. While mammograms play a vital role in screening, being vigilant about changes in your body can lead you to seek help sooner. Here’s what every woman should watch for:

  1. Lumps or Thickening: Any new lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area should prompt a consultation with your healthcare provider. Not all lumps are cancerous, but they all warrant examination.
  2. Changes in Size, Shape, or Appearance: Noticeable alterations in how your breasts look or feel can be a signal that something’s amiss. This includes unexplained increases or decreases in size, changes in contour, or significant asymmetry.
  3. Skin Changes: Dimpling, puckering, or redness of the breast skin can resemble the texture of an orange peel and might indicate underlying issues.
  4. Nipple Changes: Pay attention to any itching, burning, or soreness in the nipple area, as well as discharge that is new or different for you. An inversion or flattening of the nipple, when it previously protruded, is also a key symptom.
  5. Texture Changes: Peeling, scaling, crusting, or flaking of the nipple area or the skin of the breast should not be ignored.
  6. Swollen Lymph Nodes: Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit or near the collarbone can be a sign of breast cancer spreading.

It’s important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than breast cancer. However, any persistent change to your breasts should be discussed with a healthcare provider. Regular self-exams and awareness of your body are powerful tools in maintaining your breast health.

The Major Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Understanding the risk factors for breast cancer is crucial for prevention and early detection. While some factors are beyond your control, such as genetics and family history, awareness can guide your conversations with healthcare providers and influence your lifestyle choices. Here's an overview of the major risk factors:

Hormonal Factors: The role of hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone, is significant in breast cancer development. Factors that increase lifetime exposure to these hormones, such as early menstruation before age 11, menopause after age 55, and never having a full-term pregnancy, can elevate your risk.

Genetic Mutations: Certain genetic mutations, most notably BRCA1 and BRCA2, significantly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. If you have a family history of these cancers, genetic testing, as part of a comprehensive risk assessment, can provide clarity and direction for preventative measures.

Family History: Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer nearly doubles a woman's risk. The risk increases further if more than one first-degree relative has been diagnosed.

Previous Breast Conditions: A history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast conditions, such as atypical hyperplasia, can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Using hormone replacement therapy to alleviate menopause symptoms can contribute to increased breast cancer risk, particularly when used over extended periods.

Lifestyle and Breast Cancer Risk

Lifestyle choices can also influence your risk of developing breast cancer. While some factors are not within your control, making informed decisions about your health can help reduce your risk:

Alcohol Consumption: Regularly consuming alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Women who drink two to five alcoholic beverages daily have about 1.5 times the risk of women who don't drink.

Smoking: There's growing evidence that smoking is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer, especially in premenopausal women.

Body Weight: For postmenopausal women, being overweight or obese raises the risk of breast cancer. This is believed to be due to higher levels of estrogen produced by excess fat.

Physical Activity: Leading an active lifestyle can help lower your risk of breast cancer. Regular exercise helps control weight, which in turn reduces your risk.

Dietary Habits: While the link between diet and breast cancer risk is still being studied, a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and low in processed foods and red meat, is recommended for overall health and may help reduce the risk of various cancers.

Understanding these risk factors can empower you to take proactive steps toward your health, whether through lifestyle changes, regular screenings, or discussions with your healthcare provider about genetic testing and other preventive measures.

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment and Management Program (RAMP) Overview

At UC Health, we recognize the importance of individualized care in the fight against breast cancer. Our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment and Management Program (RAMP) is designed to empower patients, families, and providers with expert evaluation and management of high-risk patients. Here's what the program entails:

Purpose

RAMP aims to elevate awareness of breast cancer risks and provide a tailored approach to managing those at high risk. By combining a comprehensive risk assessment with personalized management plans, we strive to not only identify risks but also implement strategies for risk reduction and early detection.

"Our RAMP clinic helps women with increased risk understand what their individual risk factors are and what steps they can take to (1) reduce their risk and (2) increase the likelihood of early detection and therefore, curability, should they develop breast cancer."

-Alicia Heelan, MD, MS, FSSO 

Patient Eligibility Criteria

You might be eligible for RAMP if you have:

  • A family history of breast or ovarian cancer in first or second-degree relatives, including cases in male relatives.
  • You or close family members with known high-risk breast cancer-related genetic mutations, such as BRCA1, BRCA2, PALB2, and others.
  • A history of atypical hyperplasia, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), or received chest radiation therapy between ages 10-30.

What a Visit Entails

A visit to RAMP includes:

  1. Formal Risk Assessment: Using your family history and personal medical history, we calculate your lifetime and five-year risk of breast cancer, guiding the need for genetic testing.
  2. Education: Based on National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines, we educate you on screening recommendations, genetic testing, risk reduction strategies, and the importance of breast awareness.
  3. Genetic Testing Coordination: For those eligible, we discuss the role of genetic testing, coordinate testing, and offer referrals for genetic counseling.
  4. Follow-up Care: High-risk patients receive ongoing management, including regular follow-up visits every 6-12 months to manage and interpret imaging results, educate on prevention and lifestyle changes, and refer to specialists as needed.

Providers

Our dedicated team of providers includes certified genetic cancer risk assessors and specialists in surgical and medical oncology breast programs. We're committed to guiding you through every step of your journey toward understanding and managing your breast cancer risk.

Locations

RAMP services are available at our Barrett Cancer Building in Cincinnati and Physician's Office South in West Chester Township. To schedule an appointment and begin your journey with us, please call 513-584-RISK (7475).

breast cancer risk factors

Breast Cancer Risk Factors Detailed

Diving deeper into understanding breast cancer risk factors is pivotal for anyone concerned about their health. Knowledge of these factors offers a foundation for conversations with healthcare providers and can guide personal health decisions. Here’s a closer look at some nuanced risk factors and preventative measures.

Genetic Factors and Family History

A significant portion of risk assessment hinges on genetics and family history. Carrying certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, markedly increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The story of public figures like Olivia Munn, who have shared their experiences with genetic testing and the decisions that followed, sheds light on the importance of awareness and proactive health management.

Family history extends beyond genetics. Having first or second-degree relatives with a history of breast or ovarian cancer, even on the male side, can indicate a higher risk. It underscores the need for thorough risk assessments and, potentially, genetic counseling to navigate these complex waters.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

The decision to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause is significant. While HRT can alleviate menopausal symptoms, it may also increase the risk of breast cancer, especially with long-term use. Women considering HRT should discuss the risks and benefits with their healthcare provider to make an informed decision.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle choices play a crucial role in overall health and can influence breast cancer risk. Alcohol consumption, smoking, obesity, and lack of physical activity have all been linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Conversely, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular exercise, and adopting a balanced diet can contribute to risk reduction.

High-Risk Factors and Prevention

For those identified as high-risk, the journey doesn’t end with identification. Prevention and management strategies become key components of their healthcare plan. This includes:

  • Regular, more frequent screenings, such as mammograms and breast MRIs, tailored to the individual’s risk profile.
  • Lifestyle interventions focusing on diet, exercise, and reducing alcohol consumption and smoking.
  • Discussion of medication options, like selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) or aromatase inhibitors, which can reduce the risk in some high-risk women.
  • Consideration of prophylactic surgeries, such as preventive mastectomy or oophorectomy, for those with a very high risk.

Screening and Awareness

Awareness and regular screening form the cornerstone of early detection. For women at average risk, annual mammograms starting at age 40 are standard. However, those at higher risk may need to start earlier and include additional imaging tests like breast MRIs.

Educating women on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, along with the importance of regular self-examinations, empowers them to advocate for their health. It’s about creating a culture of awareness and action, where early detection and prevention are prioritized.

Engaging with Healthcare Providers

Open and informed discussions with healthcare providers are essential. Knowing the right questions to ask and having a comprehensive understanding of your risk can make these conversations more productive. UC Health supports patients through education, personalized screening recommendations, and a collaborative approach to managing breast health.

Genetic Testing and Counseling

Genetic testing plays a transformative role in breast cancer risk assessment, especially for individuals with a significant family history or known risk factors. It involves analyzing your DNA to identify inherited mutations that could increase your risk of breast cancer. Here’s why it’s essential:

  1. Personalized Risk Assessment: Genetic testing provides precise information about your risk, allowing for tailored screening and prevention strategies.
  2. Informed Decision-Making: Understanding your genetic makeup empowers you to make informed decisions about your health, whether it’s choosing enhanced surveillance or considering preventive treatments.
  3. Family Implications: Identifying a genetic mutation can have implications for other family members, offering them the opportunity for their own risk assessments and early interventions.

UC Health’s commitment to comprehensive care includes providing access to genetic counseling. Our counselors guide you through the testing process, help interpret the results, and discuss the next steps in a supportive, informative setting. This service ensures that you’re not navigating the complexities of genetic risk factors alone.

Engaging with Healthcare Providers

Building a partnership with your healthcare provider is crucial in managing your breast cancer risk. Whether you’re discussing screening options, genetic testing, or lifestyle changes, here’s how to make the most of your healthcare visits:

  • Prepare Your Questions: Write down any questions or concerns you have before your appointment to ensure you cover all topics of interest.
  • Share Your History: Provide a detailed family and personal medical history, as this information is vital for accurate risk assessment.
  • Discuss All Options: Explore all available screening and prevention options, including the benefits and risks of each.
  • Follow-up: Regular follow-up visits are key to monitoring your health and adjusting your care plan as needed.

UC Health supports you at every step, offering education, screening recommendations, and a personalized approach to care. We believe in empowering our patients with knowledge and choices to manage their breast health proactively.

Stay Informed...

Breast cancer risk assessment is a critical tool in the early detection and prevention of breast cancer. By understanding your risk factors, engaging in regular screenings, and discussing your health openly with healthcare providers, you can take proactive steps toward maintaining your breast health. UC Health’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment and Management Program is here to support you in this journey, providing expert care tailored to your unique needs.

Remember, knowledge is your most powerful ally in the fight against breast cancer. Empower yourself with information, and take charge of your health today. For more information or to schedule an appointment with our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Program, please call 513-584-RISK (7475).