Breast Cancer Prevention in High-Risk Women   [return to the list of articles]

"One out of 9 American women will get breast cancer."

Unfortunately, that is a true statement. Over the last 50 years, the incidence has not significantly changed. There have been improvements in early detection, but the fact remains one out of 9 women will get breast cancer.

Until recently, there have not been any treatment options available for women to prevent breast cancer. Some changes in lifestyle such as diet modification and exercise may decrease one's risk, but not significantly.

A study was done over the last few years in which women who were at high risk to develop breast cancer were given tamoxifen (zenneca pharmaceuticals), an estrogen blocker, to see if the rate of breast cancer development could be lowered in these high risk women. The study shows tamoxofen did significantly lower the rate of breast cancer-prevent breast cancer in high risk women.

What puts women at high risk? This is the important question. Many factors increase one's risk of breast cancer. Factors that play a role are: family history, age, age of menarche (first menstrual period), age at the first child's birth, race, and history of previous breast biopsies.

Based on many factors, a statistical model was established called the "gail model risk assessment tool" and if a woman has a statistical risk of 1.7% or greater, tamoxifen should be prescribed to help prevent breast cancer.

A reasonable question is "shouldn't all women take tamoxifen to reduce their risk?" The answer is, "No". Although this has helped those high risk women, there are risks and side effects associated with taking tamoxifen. A very small increase in dvt's (blood clots in the deep veins) and uterine cancer is seen in women on tamoxifen and since tamoxifen does not prevent all breast cancers, one must weigh the risks and benefits of the drug when prescribing it.

If you are interested in learning more about your risk of breast cancer and the prevention options available, you are welcome to call our office for an appointment.