October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but what we need more than passive awareness is proactive prevention.
By virtue of their sex, all women are at risk of developing breast cancer. Knowing your individual risk can help you minimize the likelihood of developing the disease. For example, we know that having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer doubles a woman’s risk of developing the disease.
There are many risk reduction strategies that can lower your risk of developing breast cancer. And there is more good news — there has been a steady improvement in the treatment of breast cancer in the 21st century. This improvement is related to advances in breast imaging, recognition of familial risk syndromes and numerous evidence-based interventions including risk-reducing medications and lifestyle changes.
Your risk of breast cancer can be affected by lifestyle choices. For instance, we know that increased body weight, decreased physical activity and a diet deficient in vegetables and fruits have been linked to breast cancer. Additionally, studies have shown that increased stress, excessive alcohol use and smoking can increase breast cancer risk.
Fortunately, women have more tools than ever before to minimize risk and catch cancer at the earliest, most treatable stages.
Women between the ages of 35 and 55 who complete their screening mammogram at any Hoag imaging facility in Orange County are automatically enrolled in the complimentary Hoag Early Risk Assessment Program. HERA provides eligible women and their physicians with both their mammogram report and a breast cancer risk profile.
Risk is based on two trusted risk assessment models, the Gail and Tyrer-Cuzick models.
If a woman has a “normal” mammogram but an elevated risk, the program provides a complimentary individualized consultation with a high-risk nurse practitioner who tailors recommendations based on the woman’s personal risk.
Here’s where awareness actually comes in. These consultations help women learn about what they can do to reduce their lifetime risk of the disease.
Women can go beyond screening mammograms and breast awareness to pursue the in-depth information they need to take control of their breast health. Knowing your individual risk can help you minimize the likelihood of developing the disease.
When we first launched the HERA pilot program with 300 women, we found 13.8% were at elevated risk — higher than the national average of 12%. The women who enrolled in the program said they appreciated receiving the information to make educated decisions with their physicians. Women in the study were aware of breast cancer risk but what they wanted was individualized, actionable information.
Be your own breast advocate, be proactive and breast self-aware. To learn more, visit hoag.org/know-your-risk.
KAREN HEROLD is a high-risk breast cancer nurse practitioner at Hoag Women’s Health Institute.