I had pretty much no risk factors for developing invasive breast cancer. I used 2 online Risk Calculators (see below) to determine my risk of developing breast cancer when I was given the diagnosis at the age of 35.
One risk calculator said that I had a 98.75% of remaining breast cancer-free for the next 10 years (until age 45). And the other risk calculator said that I had an 86.1% of remaining breast cancer-free for the next 55 years (until the age of 90)!
Other People's Questions
These are the sure-fire questions people will ask me after they find out I was given a diagnosis of cancer. I think they're scanning their minds to figure out how I'm different from them and how or why they won't get breast cancer.
"Does it run in your family?"
"Did you take the Pill?"
"Do you have a BRCA mutation?"
Nope. No. And no.
- No one in my family has ever been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- I've never taken or used any type of hormonal contraception.
- I've never smoked.
- I don't drink alcohol excessively.
- I do not have any BRCA gene mutations.
- I exercise, am not overweight, and eat lots of organic veggies.
Possible risk factors would have been...
- not ever being pregnant
- not ever breastfeeding
- having a benign giant fibroadenoma surgically excised in 2008 when I was 28 years old
- having "extremely dense" breasts (more about this risk factor below)
If I had used these 2 tools (Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium Risk Calculator and Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool) in May 2015 right before I was given the diagnosis, these would have been my results and estimated risk for developing invasive breast cancer... pretty much no risk!
Based on the information provided, the woman's estimated risk for developing invasive breast cancer over the next 5 years is 0.44%, over the next 10 years is 1.25%. The average 5-year risk for a woman the same age and race/ethnicity is 0.31%. The average 10-year risk for a woman the same age and race/ethnicity is 0.89%. These results are based upon the following answers about the woman:
- Age: 35
- Race/ethnicity: White
- First-degree relatives diagnosed with breast cancer: No
- Prior breast biopsy: Non-proliferative lesion
- Breast density: Extremely dense
Reminder: The Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium Risk Calculator was designed for use by health professionals. If you are not a health professional, you are encouraged to discuss the results and your personal risk of breast cancer with your health care provider.
Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP)
5 Year Risk of Developing Breast Cancer
- This woman (age 35): 0.5%
- Average woman (age 35): 0.3%
Based on the information provided (see below), the woman's estimated risk for developing invasive breast cancer over the next 5 years is 0.5% compared to a risk of 0.3% for a woman of the same age and race/ethnicity from the general U.S. population. This calculation also means that the woman's risk of NOT getting breast cancer over the next 5 years is 99.5%.
Lifetime Risk of Developing Breast Cancer
- This woman (to age 90): 13.9%
- Average woman (to age 90): 12.6%
Based on the information provided (see below), the woman's estimated risk for developing invasive breast cancer over her lifetime (to age 90) is 13.9% compared to a risk of 12.6% for a woman of the same age and race/ethnicity from the general U.S. population.
Most states in the US now require health care providers to notify women in writing if they have dense or extremely dense breasts. Why? "Women with dense and extremely dense breasts have a modestly increased risk of breast cancer and experience reduced sensitivity of mammography to detect breast cancer." (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)
And since 47% of women in the US population have dense or extremely dense breasts, mammogram screenings are more likely to miss detecting cancer in these women... about half of them! (The 2 mammograms I had when there was a known cancer tumor in my breast were both negative!) Screening tests that are more sensitive for women with dense or extremely dense breasts are breast ultrasound and breast MRI. You can also look into breast thermography as a screening option for yourself.
I loved the thorough breast ultrasound screenings at The Women's Imaging Center of my extremely dense breasts. I believe their expertise is what diagnosed the abnormality when I think other radiologists would have dismissed it because it looked "kinda" normal and I'm so "young and healthy."
I do my best to educate and not to scare. If you have dense or extremely dense breasts (and especially if you're under the age of 40), I want you to know that you might need to advocate for yourself with your health care provider.
- Do monthly "breast massages" with love (instead of "breast self exams" while fearfully looking for lumps) about a week after your period starts (it's when your breasts are the least "busy" with cyclical benign lumps and cysts) or #FeelItOnTheFirst day of the month if you don't have a regular cycle.
- Know Your Lemons ;)
- Have a health care provider examine your breasts each year.
- Talk with your health care provider if certain screening tests via ultrasound, MRI, or thermogram would be a good choice for you.
What About You?
What has your experience been with advocating for yourself, getting breast screening tests, and such?