Options for Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer

Studies have show that the medications used for chemoprevention can decrease the risk of breast cancer by approximately 50% in high risk women.

The average woman has a 12% (1 in 8) chance to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Some women have a higher-than-average risk for breast cancer. This may be due to a variety of factors, such as family history, breast density, and hormonal factors. Various computer-based models are available to assess breast cancer risk and, depending on a woman’s individual level of risk, different medical management options may be available for consideration by her and her doctor(s). Options for women who are at elevated risk for breast cancer include supplemental breast cancer screening, genetic counseling/testing, and chemoprevention.

Supplemental Breast Cancer Screening

This refers to additional screening exams that can be done in addition to (not instead of) regular mammograms. Some women with certain risk factors (such as breast density or family history) can consider screening for breast cancer with other technologies, such as breast MRI and/or breast ultrasound. Studies suggest that combining mammography and one of these techniques can be more effective in early detection of breast cancer when compared to mammography alone.

Genetic Counseling/Testing

Some people inherit genes that make them more likely to get certain types of cancer. Testing is available for some of these genes. A genetic consultation involves meeting with a genetics expert who will review your personal and family history of cancer. He or she will discuss the details of genetic testing with you - and your family if you choose - and help you to make an informed choice about that type of testing. This person will provide you with personalized estimates of your cancer risks which may lead to screening and medical management options that you wouldn't have considered otherwise. These options may allow for early detection and/or prevention of cancer.

Genetic counseling/testing can also be useful for patients who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer to determine whether a specific gene mutation is responsible for the cancer in the family. This may lead to careful screening in the patient for other types of hereditary cancer that are associated with the gene mutation, as well as genetic testing and personalized cancer screening in the patient’s relatives.


Medications are available that can reduce the risk of breast cancer in certain women, depending on their individual risk factors. These medications (known as chemoprevention) are taken orally, typically every day for 5 years, and can reduce a woman’s risk to develop breast cancer by up to 50%.

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