High-risk patients

If you have a family history of breast cancer on your mother’s or father’s side, you are considered “high risk” for the disease.  “High risk” is a term that terrorizes thousands of women each year after a family member’s diagnosis of breast cancer.

Thoughts that “this can happen to me, too” can cloud the future and fill you with fear.  Often, this fear may be so overwhelming that some women avoid taking necessary precautionary measures.  Others become super-zealous and obsessive in checking their breasts.  What is a normal, healthy and balanced approach to breast care if you are considered high risk?

In some ways, being considered high risk may be a blessing, one that could save your life.  You may wonder how.  Because of a family member’s breast cancer, you and your healthcare provider will most probably watch your breast health more carefully. If cancer should occur, close monitoring should find it in an early stage, when it is most treatable.  Women with no history may lack the motivation to be diligent and may ignore guidelines for early detection and screening, resulting in late detection.

Don’t be frightened of the term “high risk”.  Being at high risk does not mean that you will get cancer.  It is, however, like a yellow light – a warning to be cautious.  A family history is no reason for panic; rather, it should be motivation to learn steps for protection and early detection.

Hereditary Breast Cancer

Based on current information, approximately 7 to 10 percent of breast cancer patients have a family history that includes a mutated gene that is inherited from a mother or a father.  Hereditary breast cancer is caused by one of two identified genes, BRCA1 or BRCA2, (BR=breast; CA=cancer).

Genetic Testing May Be Recommended For:

  • Breast cancer before age 50
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Two primary breast cancers in the same individual at any age
  • Both breast and ovarian cancer in same individual at any age
  • Male breast cancer at any age
  • Two or more breast cancers in a family, one under 50
  • Three or more relatives with breast cancer at any age
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, breast cancer at any age
  • Triple negative breast cancer at any age (Negative ER, PR and HER2)
  • Identified BRCA mutation in the family
  • Pancreatic cancer with breast or ovarian cancer in the same person or on the same side of the family

If you find that your family history includes one or more of these characteristics, ask to speak to a professional counselor or provider about your own risk.  They can determine if your history qualifies you for BRCA testing.

“Early-stage breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. Catching it early is key.”

Certified Breast Health Navigator, Cary Ralph, R.N., explains why it’s so important for women to get a mammogram every year.