Buddy Check 11: Determining Your Risk of Breast Cancer


by Kelsey Starks


Posted on June 11, 2014 at 6:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 11 at 5:41 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Although no one knows what causes breast cancer, we do know there are several factors that weigh into your risk of developing it over the course of your lifetime.

In fact, it’s something that you can assess in a simple questionnaire you can find ONLINE or at your doctor’s office.  The most popular tool, called the GAIL MODEL asks a few simple questions from your age, the age you had your first child, to your race or ethnicity.

Most doctors will tell you the most critical question is the first one – your family history. That means a first degree relative who has had breast cancer – such as a mother, daughter or sister.

“We can’t control who gets breast cancer, but we can control how early we detect it,” Dr. Brian Mattingly, a radiologist in the KentuckyOne Health group said. “We do try to detect it as early as we can.”

One of the best ways to detect cancer early, is to have a look inside.  Pictures from a mammogram can help tell a patient’s story, but it’s only part of the story for doctors.

“Cancers [look] bright,” Mattingly said. 

He showed us the difference between a woman with high density breast tissue compared to one with more fatty tissue. 

“It’s obviously harder to see in breasts with more high density tissue,” he said.

High vs. low-density breast tissue is a term you might hear from your doctor.  In fact, some states have new “breast density laws” that require doctors to tell patients if that’s what they see on a mammogram.  While some research says dense breast tissue puts you at a higher risk of developing cancer, many doctors say it’s simply that dense breast tissue makes cancers more difficult to detect in early stages.

If those other factors find you have a higher than 20 percent lifetime risk, you might qualify for a different testing than a mammogram – like a breast MRI or ultrasound.  The FDA just recently approved new technology called 3-D Tomosynthesis, which would combine some of those views giving doctors a better view.  The hope is that it will help detect cancer sooner and decrease false positives or unnecessary biopsies.

“It’s a big dilemma,” Mattingly said. “We want to do no harm, but yet we’re trying to save people’s lives. There’s a balance there between over-diagnosing, being accurate and doing what’s best for the patient.”

As always, the most important advice is to talk to your doctor and ask questions about your own risk factors, which will ultimately determine how you are examined and treated, if needed.

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