Understanding Breast Cancer Risk Factors and Screening Recommendations
Women with breast cancer and germline mutations, particularly those with mutations in BRCA1/2, ATM, CHEK2 or PALB2, may have a significantly higher risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast. A study published in JAMA Network Open surveyed 1,858 women between the ages of 40 and 76 who had recently undergone mammography and found that 93% of them believed that dense breast tissue was a lesser risk factor than having a first-degree relative with breast cancer, which is associated with a two times higher risk.
In addition, the researchers also evaluated bilateral mastectomy rates in early-stage breast cancer and found that the rate had increased, decreased and then stabilized with similar rates in 2020 as in 2008.
Roughly one-third of the women in the study believed that there was nothing they could do to reduce their breast cancer risk, but in actuality, there are several ways to reduce the risk, such as maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle and minimizing alcohol consumption.
Dense breast tissue is composed of more fibrous and glandular tissue compared to fatty tissue and is a normal, common finding present in about half of women undergoing mammograms. It is important to understand that breast density changes over a woman’s lifetime, and is generally higher in women who are younger, have a lower body weight, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking hormone replacement therapy.
In addition to mammography, women with dense breasts should consider additional screenings each year such as an ultrasound or MRI. It is also important to understand that screening is not one-size-fits-all, and doctors must take into account individual risk factors, such as age and family history, when making decisions about screenings.
The findings of this study are important for helping patients and their care teams make informed decisions about appropriate screenings and steps to reduce the risk of contralateral breast cancer.
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