Mom’s Health Means Everything: Family Conversations about Breast Cancer Risk Aid Early Detection

May 7, 2021

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. Each year, more than 280,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and one in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. Family history is one of the most important factors in determining risk, and family conversations often fuel early diagnostic testing and detection.

“As we celebrate the amazing women in our lives, we should encourage our loved ones to understand their high-risk factors and schedule their annual mammograms,” said Renee Arlow, MD, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon at Conemaugh Health System. “The best gift you can give your mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, or daughter this month is a reminder to schedule her preventative screenings and testing.”

Approximately 10% of breast cancers are associated with a variant in one of several different genes and more than 50% of those are mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, according to the NCI. Identifying a woman’s hereditary breast cancer risk has a significant impact on not only the patient and her health, but on her family members, who should also consider risk management strategies.

Women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or other risk factors such as a personal history of chest radiation or prolonged exposure to estrogen, should consult with their primary care physician or OB/GYN to complete a risk assessment to determine if they need a high-risk screening with breast MRI or genetic testing.

“Once we understand a woman’s risk factors, we can create a plan to monitor her breast health regularly with advanced diagnostic testing” Arlow continued. “Today, breast cancer patients have a very high rate of survivorship with early detection and monitoring.”

Conemaugh Health System offers a complete continuum of women’s cancer care. From high-risk screening and diagnostic testing, to breast surgery and reconstruction, to radiation oncology and medical oncology, a patient’s entire care team is integrated from detection to survivorship.

Dr. Arlow and Brooke Heiple, CRNP are available to discuss high-risk factors, genetic testing, advanced screening, and steps women should take to monitor their breast health.