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Estimating Breast Cancer Risk: Facts on Risks and Recurrence

1. Who develops breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed non-skin cancer in American
women. An estimated 213,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
in 2006. The risk of breast cancer increases as women get older. Over the years,
researchers have identified certain characteristics, usually called risk
factors, which influence a woman’s chance of getting the disease. Still, many
women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors other than growing
older, and many women with known risk factors do not develop breast cancer.

2. What is the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool?

The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool is a computer program that was
developed by scientists at the National Cancer Institute and the National
Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) to assist health care
providers in discussing breast cancer risk with their female patients. The tool
allows a health professional to project a woman’s individual estimate of breast
cancer risk over a 5-year period of time and over her lifetime and compares the
woman’s risk calculation with the average risk for a woman of the same age. The
Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool can be found at: Why Are Men More Prone to Cancer?

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    8. How did BCPT and STAR use the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool to add
    to our knowledge of breast cancer risk?

    Both breast cancer prevention studies, BCPT and STAR, explored ways of
    reducing the risk of developing breast cancer; their findings have increased our
    knowledge of risk. Both trials involved women who have not had breast cancer,
    but were at high risk of developing it. BCPT used the Breast Cancer Risk
    Assessment Tool to determine eligible participants by projecting each woman’s
    individualized estimate of breast cancer risk. The projections were accurate;
    thus the BCPT results validated the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool. STAR
    researchers used the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool for determining
    eligibility for enrollment. All STAR participants had to have an increased risk
    of breast cancer equivalent to or greater than that of an average 60- to
    64-year-old woman.

    9. What else can a woman do about breast cancer?

    NCI recommends that women in their 40s and older get screening mammograms
    every one to two years. Women who are at higher than average risk of breast
    cancer should talk with their health care providers about whether to have
    mammograms before age 40 and how often to have them. Women also can take an
    active part in the early detection of breast cancer by having regular clinical
    breast exams (breast exams performed by health professionals).

    Advances in screening have provided new tools for detection. In September of
    2005, preliminary results from a large clinical trial of digital vs. film
    mammography found no difference in detecting breast cancer for the general
    populations of women in the trial. However, the Digital Mammographic Imaging
    Screening Trial (DMIST) found that women with dense breasts, who are pre- or
    perimenopausal (women who had a last menstrual period within 12 months of their
    mammograms), or who are younger than age 50, may benefit from having a digital
    rather than a regular film mammogram. More information about DMIST can be found
    at http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/pressreleases/DMISTQandA.

    Source: U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov

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