How to Know Your Breast Cancer Risk

Talk with your doctor about the Gail Model and find out what your level of risk for breast cancer is. And get a mammogram.
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It's breast cancer awareness month, and it's good we have it. Breast cancer is now a very curable disease if found and treated early. And that's what this blog post is about: making sure you get tested and helping you determine your risk.

I want to tell you about a breast cancer risk assessment tool also called the Gail Model, named in honor if its developer, Dr. Mitchell Gail. This tool is intended for doctors and not the general public, but you should definitely know about it to talk with your doctor. Its purpose is to estimate a woman's risk of developing invasive breast cancer.

Invasive breast cancer is cancer that has spread from where it started in the breast into surrounding, healthy tissue. Most invasive breast cancers start in the ducts (tubes that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple). Invasive breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. It's also called infiltrating breast cancer.

If you have already had breast cancer, lobular breast cancer in situ (LCIS) (abnormal cells in the lobules of the breast that seldom become invasive cancer) or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) (a non-invasive condition in which abnormal cells are found in the lining of a breast duct but have not spread outside the duct to other tissues in the breast), this tool is not for you.

Here are the questions on the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool:

1. Do you have a medical history of atypical hyperplasia of the breast?
2. Age over 35?
3. Age at first menstrual period (earlier is a higher risk factor)?
4. Age first baby was born? (The older you are when have first full-term baby, the higher your risk.)
5. Number of first-degree relatives with breast cancer? (Your risk increases with the number of siblings, offspring or parent with breast cancer.)
6. Previous breast biopsy increases risk.
7. Your race/ethnicity -- white women have highest followed by black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian.

Your doctor will use this information as part of a calculation for your risk along with your exam and your mammogram.

But not all women are getting a mammogram. The CDC reports that less than two out of three women age 40 to 49 years have had a mammogram in the past two years. Women over age 65 years do only minimally better. Women age 50 to 64 years are most likely to get a mammogram -- about three out of four.

Education also matters. Of the women who have gotten a mammogram in the past two years, about half have no high school diploma or a GED, about two-thirds of women with a high school diploma or a GED have gotten one, and about 75 percent of women with some college or more have gotten one.

So talk with your doctor about the Gail Model and find out what your level of risk for breast cancer is. And get a mammogram.

Click on the music video to hear my mammogram song that tells you more about getting a mammogram.

Click here to get my free three-video series called Health Accelerator and learn what test results you need to have, how to prepare for your annual exam and five tips to jump start your health today.

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For more by Mache Seibel, MD, click here.

For more on breast cancer, click here.