If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may need a more proactive strategy to manage your risk. With October being breast cancer awareness month, much of the focus in the media has been around steps that all women should take to lower their risk of breast cancer and how often they should be screened for the disease. Most of that information, however, focuses on women with an average risk of developing breast cancer.
The advice is different for women who have a family history of the disease, a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or who received radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30. For these women, starting screening earlier, being screened more frequently, and undergoing screening tests beyond 2D mammography can help detect breast cancer earlier when it may be more treatable.
When should screening begin?
If you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you are considered to be at higher risk for developing the disease. Your physician may recommend a range of screening tools based on your personal and family medical history, including:
- A clinical breast exam every three to six months rather than every year, starting at the earliest age a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer
- An annual mammogram starting no later than 10 years before the earliest diagnosis in your family, but not before age 25 or later than age 40
- Annual MRI and mammography at alternating six-month intervals
- Genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations
- 3-D baseline mammogram
While 2-D is the most commonly used type of mammography, if you’re at higher risk for breast cancer, talk with your physician about the potential benefits of undergoing 3-D mammography. This type of mammography takes multiple images of thinner slices breast tissue to create a three dimensional image of the breast, which can help detect smaller tumors earlier.
3-D mammography helped a recent PinnacleCare member, Melissa, whose mother died of breast cancer when she was six and half, to catch her own breast cancer earlier. “I’ve been getting mammograms since I was 26 years old because my mother died young from breast cancer,” Melissa explains. “This past year, I didn’t expect there to be any problem, but for some reason I opted for 3-D mammography and they did find a tumor. The oncologist at Hopkins said that there was no way they would have seen the tumor on a 2-D mammogram.”
Coordination of care, resources, and support are essential
Coordination of care can be complicated when dealing with breast cancer. The first step after diagnosis should be to seek a second opinion from a pathologist who has a high level of experience working with breast cancer patients. The next step is talking with your oncologist about which treatment options are most appropriate for your cancer and what the benefits and potential side effects of those treatment options are. You may also want to consider taking part in a clinical trial of a new treatment option. During diagnosis and treatment, care and medical records need to be shared and coordinated among your medical, radiation, and surgical oncologists.
A PinnacleCare Health Advisor can help you to access and coordinate appropriate screenings and care when you are dealing with a family history of cancer. If cancer is detected, the medical intelligence, resources, and access that a professional health advisor provides can help you make appropriate decisions about your ongoing care and treatment. An advisor can:
- Coordinate an expert medical or second opinion
- Facilitate access to top oncologists and surgeons
- Gather, review, and share medical records with all treating physicians
- Provide evidence-based information on treatment, reconstruction options, and clinical trials
- Connect you with holistic support to address treatment side effects, nutrition, exercise, and stress management
Kim, another PinnacleCare member, highlights the key role her advisor played during her breast cancer battle: “My advisor was my go-to person. Without PinnacleCare, I would have been scrambling for answers. Going through their health advisor and getting access to some of the top doctors and their recommendations really helped me make the right decision.”
View Kim’s video to learn more about her experiences as a breast cancer survivor.