Breast Cancer Risk

Women With a High Risk of Breast Cancer

Many women who are concerned about developing breast cancer either underestimate or overestimate their risk. Some risk factors, such as your family background, gender or age, can't be changed. The two highest risks for developing breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. It is important to have an accurate assessment of your risk, since this will help guide screening recommendations and options for risk reduction.

Some other individual factors that can put you at higher risk include:

  • Strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • Breast cancer gene mutations or other syndromes known to be associated with a higher risk of breast cancer (only about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are caused by inherited changes in genes)
  • Personal history of breast conditions such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ (these are not cancerous, but can be "markers" of an increased risk)
  • Previous radiation to the chest wall

Women at high risk for developing breast cancer often need more intensive and earlier screening. This includes a yearly mammogram, a clinical breast exam once or twice a year and, for some women, a yearly breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Some women can also be candidates for genetic testing due to family background.

You can be referred to a specialist to help put your individual risk into perspective. At that time, you can discuss your family history, genetic background and health habits. Women over the age of 35 can also use a breast cancer risk assessment tool.

Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer

If you are at high risk, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer. They include:

  • Lifestyle modifications: Eating a low-fat diet, maintaining healthy body weight, exercising and reducing alcohol intake can help decrease your breast cancer risk.
  • Chemoprevention: Tamoxifen or Raloxifene are anti-estrogen medications. These have been shown in clinical trials to decrease the risk of developing breast cancer up to 49 percent in women who are at high risk.
  • Surgery: Prophylactic bilateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts) and/or oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) can be an option for a few women at high risk.

Don't just worry about your breast cancer risk. At the Breast Clinic at Virginia Mason, in Seattle and Federal Way, our team takes into account your personal health situation and concerns, and help you determine the best course of action.

Questions About Breast Cancer Risks?

If you have questions about this topic, or would like more information, please talk with your health-care provider.

Virginia Mason's Breast Clinic, with locations in Seattle and Federal Way, is easily reached toll-free at (877) 433-9813. We make it a priority to answer your call promptly and to schedule you for the most appropriate exam.