You’ve heard the alarming statistics on breast cancer, read about early detection, genetic risk and mutations. Even movie stars are weighing in. Actress Angelina Jolie publicly revealed in February that she had a double mastectomy after her doctor indicated strong evidence of an inherited, genetic risk. (Angelina Jolie’s mother had breast cancer and passed away from ovarian cancer.)

Michaela Klein, DO agrees that the earlier cancer is found or the possibility of cancer found there is a greater likelihood of successful treatment options and better survival outcomes. Board certified in general surgery, Dr. Klein works at Health First Palm Bay Hospital.

“The biggest mistake I see women make is having three to four years between their mammograms and finding a new lesion,” she said.  Dr. Klein also stresses that it is just as important to have an annual exam after the first screening so that doctors can continue to follow any changes.  Without a “reference” point she explains, biopsies or other further testing must take place.

Women who are at a higher risk of breast cancer may need to be screened earlier and more often than other women. A woman is considered at higher risk if she has one factor that greatly increases her risk or several factors that together increase risk. Your health care provider may use different tools to assess your risk and help you make a breast cancer screening plan.

“Usually, there will be a first degree relative like a mother or an aunt that had a previous history of breast cancer at a young age or may have had multiple types of cancer including breast and ovarian together,” Dr. Klein explains.

Genes and Breast Cancer

The two most well-known genes linked to breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer genes 1 and 2). Everyone has these genes, but some have inherited a mutated form of one or both. Inheriting a mutated form of BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. According to Susan G. Komen only about 5 to 10 percent of all cases of breast cancer in the United States are due to inherited gene mutations.

“However even with a double mastectomy there is a small amount of breast tissue that still remains,” Dr. Klein said.  “It may not eradicate the cancer completely however it significantly decreases her risks of developing this disease.”

Men who have a strong family history will always be encouraged to see a genetic counselor to see if they are candidates for BRCA1 and 2 testing. In some cases insurance may cover genetic testing.

Questions for your health care provider: 

  • When should I begin mammography screening?
  • What should I do to prepare for the mammogram?
  • How often should I get a mammogram?
  • Is my mammogram scheduled at an
  • FDA-certified mammography center?
  • Does the radiologist specialize in mammography?

Source: Susan G. Komen for the Cure

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