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Reducing breast cancer risk

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S., other than skin cancer. At VCU Massey Cancer Center, we are committed to helping women reduce their risk for breast cancer.

Risk factors for breast cancer

Although some are at higher risk, all women are at risk for breast cancer. A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 8 or about 12 percent. There are many risk factors for breast cancer that cannot be changed, such as gender, age, family history, early menstrual periods (before age 12), late menopause (after age 55) and other factors. But there are lifestyle-related risk factors that you can control, such as:

  • Smoking
  • No children or having first child after age 30
  • Weight gain and obesity, particularly after menopause, and possibly a high-fat diet
  • Hormone replacement therapy, particularly long-term postmenopausal use of combined estrogen and progestin
  • Alcohol, especially if more than two drinks are consumed per day
  • Physical inactivity

View these tips for good breast health.

Genetic counseling and the High Risk Breast Clinic

Only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are due to known genetic factors. That means that the majority of breast cancers are, in fact, not inherited. But if breast cancer runs in your family, VCU Massey Cancer Center’s High Risk Breast Clinic can help evaluate your risk. Our clinic is the only one of its kind in the Richmond area staffed by board-certified genetic counselors. Our clinic provides genetic testing and counseling to help individuals evaluate their family history and cancer risk. Working in partnership with fellowship-trained breast imaging specialists, our genetic counselors help guide cancer screening and decisions regarding prevention and intervention, if necessary.

Who could benefit from the High Risk Breast Clinic

Women and their close family members with any of the following could benefit from the High Risk Breast Clinic:

  • Breast cancer at a young age (under 46 years)
  • More than two family members with breast cancer on the same side of the family
  • A family history of breast and ovarian cancer or pancreatic cancer
  • A male relative with breast cancer
  • Women with Jewish ancestry and even one case of breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancer in themselves or close family members
  • Those who have been told they should consider genetic testing for breast cancer risk
  • Those who are worried about their risk for breast cancer based on their family histories or genetic background

To determine if you may benefit from a visit to the High Risk Breast Clinic, visit https://breastcancergenescreen.org and complete the Breast Cancer Genetics Referral Screening Tool (B-RST). If you screen “POSITIVE” or “MODERATE RISK”, you may benefit from an appointment at the High Risk Breast Clinic.

What if I already have cancer?

Women with hereditary breast cancer may have higher risk for another cancer. The High Risk Breast Clinic may help you understand this risk and how to manage it. For example, some women with breast cancer that is hereditary may choose to have bilateral mastectomies because of the risk for cancer in the other breast. What you learn could also guide other types of cancer treatment and/or eligibility for clinical trials.

Also, it is often most helpful to start risk assessment with a family member who has already had cancer. Your genetics assessment could help your relatives stay healthy.

Prevention strategies

Women at high risk for breast cancer have various options to help manage their risk. Options for risk reduction include chemoprevention and prophylactic mastectomy, which are the use of hormone therapy drugs and the surgical removal of breasts, respectively, to lower the risk of breast cancer. Some women may opt for surveillance, in which enhanced screening tools are used to try to find cancer at its earliest and most treatable stage. The best option depends on many factors, and these decisions are very personal. Our High Risk Breast Clinic can help guide you in making these decisions and can provide whatever treatment is needed. Detecting cancer early increases the possibility for a good outcome and more successful treatment.

Make an appointment
Are you concerned about being at high risk of breast cancer? To schedule an appointment with the High Risk Breast Clinic, please call us at (804) 237-6666.