Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy in women in the Western world. Many of us know someone who has been touched by the disease: a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, a sister or mother. That “someone” may even be you.
It is estimated that one in nine women may at some time in their life be afflicted with breast cancer. But our future is not so grim, as advances in the science of breast medicine are making a significant difference. Diagnostic imaging technologies continue to evolve, improving in their ability to detect and diagnose breast cancer at earlier stages. Basic and applied science research in the field of molecular biology and genomics show promise in both treatment and prevention. The academic medical community is in constant quest for new therapies and treatment protocols, and with the help of the tens of thousands of women willing to participate in clinical trials, there is great hope in our battle against breast cancer.
We are transitioning to a new era of “personalized medicine,” which utilizes the information related to a person’s unique set of genes combined with relevant environmental factors in order to effectively prevent, diagnose and treat diseases, including cancers and non-cancer related medical disease. So called “risk assessment models” and sophisticated genetic testing are being developed to identify patients who may be unknowingly at high risk for developing a particular disease. A number of such risk assessment tools have been developed for breast cancer.
We have embraced innovation in the fight against breast cancer right here on the North Shore at Beverly Hospital. We have incorporated free breast cancer risk assessment at the time of an annual screening mammogram, utilizing one of the newly developed tools. The results are then incorporated into a mammogram report that is sent to the referring doctor. Women who are identified as high risk (currently defined as a 20 percent greater lifetime risk of developing breast cancer compared to their contemporaries), are notified by letter. It is recommended that these women consider consultation at The Breast Health Center at Beverly Hospital at Danvers for further counseling and screening recommendation. A breast health specialist will review a women’s mammogram with a radiologist specialized in breast imaging at the time of her visit to determine if additional imaging or preventative strategies may be beneficial. One factor considered is the overall breast density of her mammogram; the more dense, the more likely a potential cancer could be masked on a mammogram.