You know your medical history. Would not it be nice if you could know your medical “future” as well? Will you be healthy or will you suffer from ailments and diseases? And, more specifically, what about The Big “C”? What are the odds that you will develop Breast Cancer?
Cancer does not discriminate between the fabulously rich and the completely impoverished, nor will it skip the absolutely beautiful in favor of the hideously ugly. There are, however, various factors that can affect your risk factor. Although you can not look into a crystal ball and know conclusively whatever you will be affected, you can use information that you do know together with risk assessment tools to form a pretty accurate guess. It is important to note that assessment tools are only a first step and certainly not a replacement for conscientious preventative breast health care.
The National Cancer Institute website provides an assessment tool based on “The Gail Model”. This model takes into account personal medical history, reproductive history, and a history of breast cancer among first-degree relatives.
The tool, designed for women over the age of 35, asks the following questions:
- What is the woman’s age?
- What was the woman’s age at the time of her first menstrual period?
- What was the woman’s age at the time of her first live birth of a child?
- How many of the woman’s first-degree relatives – mother, sisters, daughters – have had breast cancer
- Has the woman ever had a breast biopsy? (There are additional questions if the answer is ‘yes’.)
- What is the woman’s race/ethnicity?
There are other factors that are not included in risk estimates with this tool mainly because there is not enough accurate evidence to determine how much these factors affect the calculated risk for an individual woman. In addition, the tool does not give a good estimate of risk in women with a personal history of invasive breast cancer, DCIS or LCIS, or women with a strong family history who may have inherited a gene mutation.
Even with its limitations, the tool can still be quite useful. For women who do fall within the testable group, the results have shown to give accurate estimates of risk. Of course, even if you can estimate your risk, the tool can not predict whether you personally will get breast cancer. (Although you do not wish you had that crystal ball?) Although researchers are continuously conducting studies and gathering more data to improve testing models, they still do not know what causes breast cancer to develop at a specific time in a certain person.
After you know your risk of developing breast cancer, you can become a partner in helping to lower it. Be aware of changes in your breast, get clinical breast exams and mammograms, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Become your own advocate by doing research and staying informed. You can not know your medical “future” but you can do something about it.