Recommendations For Family Members

Although the majority of cases of breast cancer are not hereditary, having a first degree relative, either on the mother’s or father’s side, does increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer. A good word of advice is to inform your family members of your diagnosis, and suggest that your daughters or sisters be particularly thorough in practicing early detection.

The current recommendations include yearly mammograms starting either at age forty, or at an age that is ten years younger than yours at the time of your diagnosis, whichever is earlier.

For younger women, whose breasts are more dense, and more difficult to be examined by mammography, there are techniques available such as ultrasound, MRI and BSGI that will help spot smaller changes.

Mammography itself is constantly undergoing refinement. For example, digital systems make image management easier. There are also computerized programs that enhance the physicians’ ability to interpret images rapidly and effectively. And for those women who avoid mammograms for fear of the discomfort caused by the compression, new user-friendly foam pads make much of the discomfort obsolete.

In addition, BSE is important for younger women, who are not yet at the mammogram screening age of over 40. For these women, the only tools readily available are clinical breast examinations and monthly self-examination.

Genetic Testing

One of the questions that women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer ask is, “Should my close relatives be tested for breast cancer genes?” This is not a simple question.

The tests that are available today look for abnormalities in the BRCA genes. If abnormalities are found, then the person has a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

For women at high risk, the options include prophylactic mastectomy—removal of both breasts as a pre-emptive measure, or hormone treatment (such as with tamoxifen) that will induce menopause.

If the test is negative, it does not mean that the person will not develop breast cancer.

There are laws that protect patient information, and prohibit health insurance companies and employers from using results of genetic testing to discriminate against a person. But as for anything in the age of online access, there may be a risk that someone may illegally access the information.

The decision of whether to undergo genetic testing should be made with the help of a genetic counselor trained in risk assessment, and the woman must be very clear about the expected benefits and risks.