Of the more than 30,000 mammograms Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital performs each year, approximately 1,000 women are identified as being at high risk for developing breast cancer. In light of these alarming numbers, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital has launched a new High Risk Breast Program aimed at identifying and educating women who may be at greater risk for developing breast cancer.
Led by three Sentara Martha Jefferson Cancer Center physicians Lynn Dengel, MD (Virginia Breast Care); Erika Struble, MD (Sentara Martha Jefferson Hematology and Medical Oncology Associates); and Scott Pease, MD (CRL), the hospital launched the High Risk Breast Program.
The High Risk Breast Program is automatically available to all women who come through Sentara Martha Jefferson’s mammography services; however, if a woman believes she is at high risk for breast cancer, she can call the Breast Health Nurse Navigator to learn more.
Am I at High Risk?
Being high risk for breast cancer means that a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer is greater than average. While this doesn’t mean that that person will definitely develop breast cancer, knowing one’s risk can help in making healthcare decisions including frequency of screenings and potentially preventive treatments.
Only 5 to 10 percent of all cancer is hereditary, and over 50 percent of the most common cancers can be prevented. The idea behind the program is to give women the tools they need to help prevent breast cancer and make informed decisions about their healthcare.
The identification process typically begins when a woman comes in for her mammogram. During check in, she is given a set of questions to help identify her risk level. The questions include age, family history, prior biopsy with abnormal cells, lifestyle factors and post-menopausal hormone use. The information is then analyzed and a risk score is given based off the responses provided by the patient.
Patients with a high score will be notified by letter and asked to reach out to Janelle Gorski as Sentara Martha Jefferson’s High Risk Breast Program Nurse Practitioner, who will then ask additional questions to determine next steps and, if needed, help guide the patient through the program.
“If a patient is high risk, they are then introduced to the many aspects of the program,” said Gorski, “The first step is to offer a referral to a breast specialist for consideration of high risk screening, and also if the patient is eligible, for genetic counseling. There are also free elements to the program, including meetings with a registered dietician and exercise counselor.”
The program will also offer a continuum of care for patients by setting up and maintaining communication with the patient’s primary care provider, allowing everyone in the patient’s care journey updates on referrals and recommendations made by the program.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Being female and getting older are the two biggest risk factors for breast cancer, though men are not exempt from having breast cancer.
The presence of certain conditions can increase the likelihood that a person may develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Among those factors are:
- Having a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, particularly if diagnosed before age 50
- Having a family member who as or having personally been tested positive for a hereditary breast cancer mutation
- Having a male in your family with breast cancer
- Being younger than 12 at the time of your first period
- Starting menopause after age 55
- Having your first child after age 30, or never having had children
- Being overweight after menopause or gaining weight as an adult
- Having more than one drink of alcohol per day
- Being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent
- Having undergone combined estrogen and progesterone hormone replacement therapy
A Community Connection
Sentara Martha Jefferson’s High Risk Breast Program will be funded almost exclusively through community philanthropy. The Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation adopted the program as a philanthropic priority in 2017 in support of providing this program, which will prove invaluable in the fight to help women in our community prevent and successfully fight breast cancer.
If you think you may be at high risk for breast cancer and would like to find out, please call the High-Risk Breast Program at 434-654-4483 to speak with our breast nurse navigator.