High Risk for Breast Cancer? Here’s What You Can Do.

When you come to Virginia Women’s Center for a mammogram, you get much so much more than just breast cancer screening. You get an expert medical team dedicated to learning about your risk factors and health concernsa team that uses state-of-the-art 3D technology to review your breast tissue layer by layer in 1mm slices. And, every woman who comes in for breast screening also receives a preliminary assessment of her risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime.

We use the Tyrer-Cuzick model (sometimes called IBIS) to determine your risk of developing breast cancer. “It’s not a perfect test, but it’s one of the best ones available,” says Dr. Katherine Czyszczon (pronounced sizz-ZON) or Dr. “C” as most of her patients call her, an OB/GYN in our West End office. The Tyrer-Cuzick assessment tool considers not only family history, but other variables such as BMI (body mass index) and personal medical history.

The average woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is 12 percent. So what happens if you find out that your breast cancer risk is high—20 percent or more?

First steps when you have a higher breast cancer risk 

Don’t panic. “One in 11 women is going to face breast cancer sometime in her life,” Dr. C says. “The wonderful news is, in this day and age, it’s an incredibly treatable disease, and very often curable—when we find it early.”

If you learn that you have an intermediate or high risk of breast cancer, you can discuss it with a breast cancer risk specialist at Virginia Women’s Center. Your doctor can talk about increasing surveillance and may recommend genetic testing, six-month exams, and possibly even a screening MRI.

Another possibility is genetic testing, which can reveal whether you have hereditary gene mutations, such as a BRCA mutation, that would increase your risk of having certain cancers. “There are certain patterns in a family history that would justify screening for genetic predisposition,” Dr. C explains, “but genetic testing isn’t useful for everyone.”  High-risk patients may carry genes that modern medicine hasn’t found yet.

Breast cancer prevention: How to reduce your risk

 Your doctor will also talk to you about breast cancer prevention. Most of the actions you can take to reduce your risk are “the normal things that encourage general health and well-being,” Dr. C says, and it’s never too late to make a difference in your life and in your health.

  • Regular exercise lowers breast cancer risk by about 10 to 20 percent, according to research compiled by the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause. But don’t obsess over the number on the scale, Dr. C says. “Take one day at a time, and try to do your best. There’s no way you won’t succeed.”
  • Eat a healthy, 80% plant-based diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts) with the other 20% from “real foods” such as healthy fats, fish, etc.  Stick to the outer edges of the grocery store when shopping.
  • Quit smoking. Recent studies suggest a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, especially in premenopausal women.
  • Cut back on alcohol. Studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer as alcohol intake increases, according to the National Cancer Institute. Limit yourself to less than one drink a day, as even small amounts increase risks.
  • Limit hormone therapy. “Anyone who’s considering hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptom relief should consider the pros and cons,” Dr. C says, and consider alternative or non-hormonal treatments first.
  • Breastfeed, if possible, if you’re a new mom. Emerging evidence says breastfeeding may play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you can do it, the better.
  • Be vigilant. You know your body better than anyone. If you notice a lump, bump, skin change or discharge, or if you just don’t feel right, call us.

To make an appointment for your annual well-woman visit, or schedule a mammogram, call 804.288.4084.

Dr. Katherine Czyszczon is a much-loved provider who practices at the Virginia Women’s Center West End location on Forest Hill.  When she’s not caring for women, she enjoys running, cooking and spending time with her family and new puppy.

Virginia Women’s Center offers complete breast health services, including state-of-the-art 3D technology which allows the radiologist to examine your breast tissue layer by layer. Instead of viewing all the complexities of your breast in a flat image, fine details are more visible, no longer hidden by the tissue above or below.  The radiologist is able to view 1mm slices of your breast tissue at a time. If anything of concern is found, diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies are performed right here at Virginia Women’s Center. And depending upon the findings, we have a team dedicated to educating and helping you navigate any next steps required.