1. My mother and sister have both been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Does this mean I will get breast cancer, too?
C - Your risk is increased by two or three times that of the general population. Your risk is even greater if your relative(s) developed breast cancer before menopause, or if the relative had breast cancer in both breasts. Approximately 10 % of all breast cancers are hereditary. You should consult your doctor about personal breast cancer screening guidelines and recommendations for genetic counseling. You will probably be advised to have your first mammogram earlier and clinical breast exams at least once a year and may be eligible for supplemental screening tests such as breast MRI. You should report any changes in your breast tissue to your healthcare provider.
2. BRCA1 and BRCA2 inherited gene mutations (alterations in genetic material) increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
A - True. Women with an altered BRCA gene have an increased risk of developing breast cancer and at a younger age (before menopause). However, not all women who carry the BRCA genes will develop cancer.
BRCA1 was the first gene detected that increased the risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The presence of this gene produces a greater than 80% risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer by age 85. BRCA1 appears to account for about 45% of inherited breast cancers and 80% of families with both breast and ovarian cancer. An estimated one in 600 women carry this gene.
A second gene, BRCA2, also plays a major part in breast and ovarian cancer. It is associated with a 60-80% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. BRCA2 is also associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer and may account for a genetic linkage of male breast cancer.
Both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can be inherited from either parent. Men or women who carry one of these gene mutations have a 50% chance of passing it on to each of their children.
Importantly, one in forty individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent carry mutations in either BRCA1 or BRCA2.
3. My risk for breast cancer starts to increase after age 35.
A - True. Breast cancer is uncommon in women under age 35. The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman grows older. The risk of an average woman developing breast cancer before the age of 50 is 2%. The average age of breast cancer diagnosis in the US is 62. About 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over age 50, and almost half are age 65 and older.
4. Fibrocystic breast changes increase my risk of developing breast cancer.
B - False. Fibrocystic changes are found in the tissue of almost all women. This fibrous tissue in conjunction with tiny fluid-filled cysts can feel lumpy. Tenderness and lump size commonly increase the week before the menstrual period and lessen a week after due to hormonal fluctuations. The lumps may be hard or rubbery and can appear as a single breast lump that may be large or small. Fibrocystic changes can also appear as thickening of the breast tissue. Fibrocystic changes can occur in one or both breasts and are often prominent during a woman’s 40s. These changes are the most common cause of benign breast lumps in women ages 35 to 50.
5. My diet can affect my risk for breast cancer.
A - True. Although the possible link between diet and breast cancer is still being studied, it has been shown that overweight and obesity increases breast cancer risk. Maintaining ideal body weight, particularly after menopause, and regularly exercising also appears to lower a woman’s risk. Limiting alcohol to less than seven drinks weekly is important.
6. The benign condition atypical hyperplasia can increase my risk of developing breast cancer.
A - True. When a benign biopsy shows atypical hyperplasia, your risk of developing breast cancer is 30% over the next 25 years. Atypical hyperplasia occurs in about ten percent of benign breast biopsies.
7. Other risk factors for breast cancer include:
A. Starting menstruation at an early age (before 12)
B. Late onset of menopause (after age 55)
D. Having a first child after age 30
E. Not having any children
F. All of the above
F. All of these risk factors may increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.
8. Tamoxifen can be taken to reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
A - True. Women who have an increased risk of breast cancer can take tamoxifen to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer. Research has shown a 50% reduction in breast cancer incidence among high-risk participants who took tamoxifen as compared to placebo.
9. Using antiperspirant increases my risk of developing breast cancer.
B - False. There is no evidence to support this idea. Recent Internet e-mail rumors have suggested that underarm antiperspirants hamper sweat gland function and allow toxins to build up, thereby increasing the risk of developing breast cancer. There is no data to support this assertion.