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Are You at High Risk for Breast Cancer?

In an effort to detect potential breast cancer in the early stages, women across the country have committed to receiving an annual mammogram. But for those at high risk for the disease, is an annual screening enough?

To help physicians detect potential cancers that may be missed during a mammogram or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, an imaging procedure called tomosynthesis is among the latest developments in breast cancer detection. Although the American Cancer Society indicates the procedure has primarily been used in research, the technology is now available at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas — one of the first hospitals in the nation to offer it.

Tomosynthesis is similar to digital mammography, but rather than creating a flat image of the breast, it takes several X-ray pictures from various angles and pieces them together to form a three-dimensional image, enabling physicians to more easily detect cancerous areas within dense breast tissue.

According to BreastCancer.org, tomosynthesis offers a number of benefits compared to mammography, including:

• Clear, well-focused images

• Less discomfort for the patient

• Three-dimensional views for more accurate detection

The biggest risk factors for breast cancer are related to personal and family medical history, so the appropriate preventive measures vary depending on the individual.

“Incidences of breast cancer or ovarian cancer can put patients at high risk,” says Kandice Kilbride, M.D., breast surgeon on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “Other important details are the ages of the patient when she got her first period, when she began menopause and when she gave birth to her first child, in addition to whether or not she has taken hormone replacement pills.”

To help women determine their risk for breast cancer before it becomes a threat, Texas Health Dallas now offers the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Service. Through this program, all women who schedule routine mammograms will be asked to complete a computerized survey to calculate their individual risk. Women at high risk will be able to enroll in a high-risk surveillance program, which will give them access to genetic testing, screenings and physician consultations.
In addition, the program will educate women about how to perform breast self-exams, as well as the benefits of diet and exercise in lowering their risk. Ultimately, Texas Health Dallas hopes to provide women with the knowledge and tools they need to prevent breast cancer or diagnose it early, when it is most easily treated.

If your physician determines you are at high risk for developing breast cancer, it’s important to take preventive action. A high-risk patient has options available, including further observation and additional screenings.

“A woman who is at high risk for breast cancer should undergo appropriate breast screenings to detect potential calcifications or tumors,” Dr. Kilbride says. “Depending on the level of risk, we can choose from a variety of different treatment pathways, but it’s important to sit down with a health care professional and create a plan that is tailored to you.”

To assess your risk of breast cancer, schedule an appointment with a physician at Texas Health Dallas by calling 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355). (Spring 2009)

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