Simplest steps matter most in breast cancer prevention

Press Release – Released via Glass Tower

If you do nothing else this Breast Cancer Action Month, ask some questions. That’s the advice from The Gift of Knowledge, a not for profit organisation established to raise awareness and support those impacted by a genetic predisposition to breast …5 October 2011

Simplest steps matter most in breast cancer prevention

If you do nothing else this Breast Cancer Action Month, ask some questions.

That’s the advice from The Gift of Knowledge, a not for profit organisation established to raise awareness and support those impacted by a genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer.

“For all the fancy medical equipment and sophisticated tests and treatments that exist, the most powerful thing that women can do to save their own lives – or the lives of others in their families – is to ask relatives questions about their family medical history, and ask questions about their specific risk factors of their GPs and other medical staff they come into contact with.”

“All of those wonderful advances in science and medical expertise lie dormant until you’ve asked ‘does this need looking at? Or even if you’re well – ‘does my family history need looking at?’

Recent research suggests that women with a predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer (BRCA gene mutation) are being diagnosed with breast cancer almost 8 years earlier than the generation before them.

Hereditary breast cancers can strike women as young as twenty and thirty. Often they are more aggressive and faster growing.

“What is exciting now is that those with a pre disposition to breast cancer have choices,” Nicola says, “At 33 I chose to remove my breasts, it was the best choice for me. I reduced my risk from approximately 85% to 2%. It’s not for everyone though. What is important is that those at high risk know they are at risk and educate themselves so they can make choices that are right for them. Once you know you’re at high risk you can make decisions that could literally save your life. Some women choose intensive surveillance, often a mix of regular MRIs and mammograms. Others choose to remove their breast tissue altogether, and to reconstruct or not. “

For close families where breast cancer runs rife, the evidence is right in front of them. In others, the picture may not be so clear, for a number of reasons.

“People still don’t like to talk about cancer. You still find families where the word can barely be spoken, or where it’s just not talked about at all. In others, it is considered such a private thing, that it is kept within the confines of the immediate family, so the extended family can often be unaware that somebody has been diagnosed or is undergoing treatment. Asking the questions can be hard – but it can also save not just your life, but that of others in your family, too.”

Through The Gift of Knowledge, Nicola hears all too often of people who suspect or know that their family breast cancer history may contain some worrying trends – but don’t raise it with their GP. They either put it on the ‘to do’ list and don’t get around to it, forget about it or prefer not to know. “Its devastating when these people contact me and say I wish I had acted on it earlier. I always wish they had, too”.

“We’re all so mobile these days, it’s often the exception now to see a doctor who has been with your family all the way through and has the knowledge and generations worth of notes. It’s up to us to take responsibility for our own histories, and make sure that they end up in our files. Many of the red flags that come with genetic cancers will only come once there is a suspicion that something is wrong. So much can be done to lower somebody’s risk of developing invasive cancer before that point, and that’s what we’re particularly interested in.”

Only five to ten percent of all breast cancers can be explained by genetics. For those women, knowledge really is power.

When to ask questions:

Every woman should know or find out whether breast cancer alone or breast and ovarian cancer together, are common in their family. Family patterns that are worth digging more deeply into include having three or more blood relatives on the same side with breast or ovarian cancer, or two or more blood relatives on the same side with breast or ovarian cancer, plus one of the following:

breast and ovarian cancer in the same person
two or more close blood relatives on one side of the family (mother’s or father’s) with breast or ovarian cancer
breast cancer before age 40
ovarian cancer before age 50
breast cancer in both breasts
breast cancer in a male relative
Jewish ancestory
Any blood relative with a BRCA mutation

ENDS

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