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How Surveillance Program Can Make a Difference When Breast Cancer Risk is High

November 04, 2019

One important way women at increased risk for breast cancer can monitor their health is by participating in Hartford HealthCare’s Breast Cancer Risk Assessment and Surveillance Program.

A variety of factors can may contribute to a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, including:

  • A strong family history of breast cancer.
  • A benign breast biopsy with pathology that includes atypical cells.
  • Genetic predisposition to breast cancer such as a variant in BRCA 1 or 2 genes.
  • A history of chest wall radiation before the age of 30.
  • Increased risk scores based on commonly used models that take into account the woman’s health history and other factors to predict the lifetime risk of breast cancer.

“This is a multi-site program comprised of breast cancer specialists throughout the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute — both oncology and surgical team members — who are invested in providing women with a personalized breast cancer risk assessment,” said Dr. Daniel Morganstern, a breast medical oncologist who serves as physician leader of the program and works in close coordination with Dr. Patricia DeFusco, director of the Cancer Institute’s Breast Program. Dr. Morganstern also oversees the Cancer Genetics Program.

Identifying women at increased risk for breast cancer, Dr. Morgenstern said, can lead to tailored approaches to breast cancer screening beyond standard mammography, including education about lifestyle changes that might help lower a woman’s risk and, in some cases, procedures or medications that can lower the risk of breast cancer.

Patients at the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment and Surveillance Program meet with a physician or specially-trained nurse practitioner to have a clinical breast exam and review various factors, including:

  • Family history.
  • Reproductive history.
  • Hormonal exposures such as use of hormonal replacement therapy and birth control.
  • Breast imaging.

“Patients will leave with a more precise understanding of their actual risk for developing cancer, be it average, increased or decreased as compared with the ‘average’ woman in their age group,” Dr. Morganstern said. “They will also leave with a plan of action to ensure early detection and decreased risk.

“In some cases, women will learn that their risk is lower than they had previously understood, which is a good thing, too!”

The goal of the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment and Surveillance Program is to help women with concerns about their breast cancer risk understand their situation, monitor their breast health and, ultimately, drive down the rates of breast cancer, which currently affects one in eight women, he added.

“The other goal is to ensure that if a breast cancer is diagnosed, despite enhanced surveillance and preventive measures, that it is diagnosed in its most early and curable stages,” Dr. Morganstern said. “Early diagnosis also helps to minimize the extent of surgical and medical treatments that are necessary, making it easier to recover after this often life-changing diagnosis.”

The program, he said, also works to connect women who are interested in “partnering with us to advance the prevention field” to clinical trials of breast cancer preventive strategies and novel imaging approaches.

“We are working to make this program standardized and widely available through the breast cancer specialists affiliated with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute,” Dr. Morgenstern said.

For more information on theHartford HealthCare Cancer Institute Breast Cancer Risk Assessment and Surveillance Program, call 855.255.6181.