Top 5 Breast Cancer Questions … and Answers from a Breast Surgical Oncologist

Dislcosure :: our Breast Cancer Awareness Series is sponsored by Touro Infirmary.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women; it is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths. Even though breast cancer is widely discussed in the media and other forums, there are still many misconceptions about breast cancer risk and prevention. With an abundance of information available, breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment can feel like an overwhelming quagmire for patients and their family members.

As a breast surgical oncologist, educating patients is one of my most important roles. I am a teacher-the class is on the disease of breast cancer. I am writing this blog post to share some of the most frequently asked questions that I receive from patients.

How common is breast cancer?

According to the Center for Disease Control:

  • About 1 in 8 women (12.5%) will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • About 7% of women will get breast cancer by age 70.
  • About 1% will get ovarian cancer by the age of 70.
  • Most breast and ovarian cancers occur in women after the age of 50. Breast cancer also affects younger women. About 11% of all new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. are found in women younger than 45.
  • Family health history is an important factor affecting a woman’s risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.

4 myths

Click here to read breast cancer myths and facts.

What does it mean to be at increased risk of developing breast cancer based on family history?

  • About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning that they result directly from gene defects (mutations) inherited from a parent.
  • If first, second or third degree relatives have been affected by breast cancer, these diagnoses may serve as clues for a possible underlying inheritable breast cancer disorder.
  • If multiple relatives have been affected (especially at a young age) this could also be a clue to an underlying inheritable breast cancer disorder.

Most women, around 90%, who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.

  • The majority of women in the general population have family histories are at average risk.
  • In some families with a strong history, genetic testing may be helpful.
  • If one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) is diagnosed with breast cancer, the risk is doubled.
  • If two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed, risk is increased three-fold

What are the genes that can cause hereditary breast cancer?

The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes

  • In normal cells, these genes help prevent cancer by making proteins that keep the cells from growing abnormally.
  • If you have inherited a mutated copy of either gene from a parent, you have a high risk of developing breast cancer during your lifetime.
  • Other gene mutations can also lead to inherited breast cancers.
    • These gene mutations are rare and often do not increase the risk of breast cancer as much as the BRCA
    • They are not frequent causes of inherited breast cancer.

What can women do to reduce their risk of breast cancer?

  • Certain lifestyle choices to reduce your risk, such as:
    • Maintaining a healthy weight
    • Exercising regularly
    • Limiting alcohol intake
    • Not smoking or quitting if you do smoke
    • Eating nutritious food

When should a woman begin screening for breast cancer?

  • Beginning at age 20, all women should begin regular self breast exams.
  • A woman should know the topography of her own breasts and monitor it regularly.
  • Regular screenings can help detect the cancer early, making it easier to treat.
    • Develop a screening plan with a doctor
    • Types of screenings include:

About Dr. John Colfry

ColfryDr. John Colfry is a fellowship trained Breast Surgical Oncologist at Touro Infirmary. He specializes in surgical treatment for breast cancer including lumpectomy, mastectomy, breast conservation techniques, and oncoplastic surgery. During his fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he mastered innovative surgical techniques such as radioactive seed localized lumpectomy. He also manages benign breast disease as well as high-risk breast cancer patients.



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