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What’s Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer? | Health

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What’s Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
What’s Your Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?


Last week Angelina Jolie astonished most of us by announcing that she had undergone a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery as a way of minimizing her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.  In sharing her story with the public, she explained that her mother had died of breast cancer at the age of 56, and that she, Angelina, had inherited a “faulty” BRCA-1 gene, leading her doctors to conclude that she had a very high risk of developing the disease (about 87 percent). 

According to Dr. Lisa Lilienfield of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean VA,  By sharing her story, Angelina offered each of us an excellent opportunity to reflect upon our own health situation and options.  If you have a strong history of breast cancer in your immediate family and are concerned about your own genetic risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to seek genetic counseling with a specialist.”

Coming to this decision is a journey often fraught with emotion for patients and their partners. “I usually recommend patients who are thinking about pursuing genetic testing to the Inova Breast Care Institute,” says Dr. Lilienfield.  According to Inova's guidelines, women who can benefit from genetic counseling for breast cancer will have one or more of the following characteristics:

•          Strong family history of early-onset breast cancer, diagnosed before age 50

•          Breast cancer in two or more first-degree relatives on the same side of the family

•          Multiple primary tumors (for example, a woman with two primary breast cancers)

•          Bilateral or multiple cancers

•          Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry with significant personal and/or family history of breast or ovarian cancer

BRCA-Gene Testing, which is conducted at Inova, can identify gene mutations that indicate an increased risk of developing certain breast and ovarian cancers. On average, women who have inherited the harmful BRCA-gene mutation have a 65 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetimes than women without it. Knowing whether or not you carry the mutation can help you understand your personal risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

Another test that can help identify a women's risk of developing breast cancer is the Estrogen-Metabolism Assessment.  It evaluates how well your body metabolizes and processes estrogen.  Says Dr. Lilienfield, “Certain types of estrogen metabolites can increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer and worsen your prognosis if you do develop cancer; by proactively measuring the levels of these metabolites in a person’s blood or urine, we can determine whether medication changes or lifestyle modifications, such as diet and exercise, are warranted.”

After prevention, detection is the next most powerful step in fighting breast cancer.  Women now have access to 3-D Mammography, a new technology that allows radiologists to view the tissue inside the breast layer by layer and from different angles.  Although the 3-D mammography takes slightly longer than an ordinary mammography, it is much more accurate in detecting breast cancer.

“Of course there are many other things that you do to improve your health and lower your cancer risks,” Dr. Lilienfield adds, “such as reducing your stress level, getting sufficient exercise, sleep and balanced nutrition, including the nutritional supplementation that you may need.” 

Most importantly, do not shy away from facing up to what can be emotionally difficult health topics.  Take charge of your health.  Talk with your doctor about the medical testing and lifestyle changes that can help you increase your chances of living a long, healthy life!

About Dr. Lisa LilienfieldA member of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine team in McLean, Virginia, Dr. Lisa Lilienfield is board-certified in family medicine, and she specializes in Women’s Health and Sports Medicine. To learn more, please visit The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine website at www.kaplanclinic.com.