Know Your Risks – Breast Cancer Awareness

Your Health Matters

One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Despite the prevalence of the disease, most women do not fully understand the risk.

Ann-Marie N. Hugh, M.D., FACS, breast surgical oncologist with Meritus Center for Breast Health, believes knowledge is power when it comes to understanding risk factors for developing breast cancer.

In the know

Risk factors, says Dr. Hugh, fall into two categories: modifiable and non-modifiable. You can change your exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption habits. You can refrain from long-term use of hormone replacement therapy and have children earlier in life. Your age and being a woman obviously are factors beyond your control — and the older we get, the more prone we are to developing cancers of any kind.

The 10-year risk of breast cancer for a 40-year-old woman of average risk is one in 68 compared to one in 42 for a 50-year-old woman. Although less common in younger women, breast cancer, when diagnosed at an earlier age, is often more aggressive. While the majority of women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors, it is still important to discuss risk factors with your primary care physician. You and your provider can then develop a breast cancer screening plan.

Knowledge is power

Understanding risk factors allows physicians to establish mammography screening guidelines, and if necessary, take next steps. The American Cancer Society, American Medical Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology and the National Cancer Institute all agree that women at average risk of developing breast cancer should be eligible for regular mammography screening starting at age 40.

Breast cancer risk assessment tools such as the Gail Model – that estimates chances based on seven risk factors - or the Tyrer-Cuzick Model – the most comprehensive assessment of risk factors - calculate whether a woman is at average or at high risk for developing breast cancer. The tools look at certain thresholds to determine whether interventions, like chemoprevention medication, are needed to prevent breast cancer.

Women at average risk typically have no family history of breast cancer or genetic mutations and have not received chest radiation early in life to treat diseases such as Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Some imaging centers use breast cancer risk assessment tools before women undergo mammography and share both imaging and risk assessment results with primary care providers.

Be your own advocate

Dr. Hugh believes that all women should start annual mammograms at age 40. She also encourages women to practice self-awareness — monitoring changes in how your breasts look and feel. Be your own advocate, says Dr. Hugh, so you can do more — from understanding your risk factors to seeking expert advice on cancer prevention strategies.

For women diagnosed with breast cancer, Dr. Hugh offers hope and another “C” word — cure. With more than 13 years of experience, Dr. Hugh is a fellowship-trained, surgical breast oncologist who works with a team of physicians to diagnose and treat breast cancer in Hagerstown.

October is breast cancer awareness month. The Make a Difference free breast cancer screening program offers clinical breast exams and mammograms if indicated for attendees at clinics held each month. Early detection is the best protection, so call 301-665-4671 for more information and to schedule an appointment today.