Monday Medical: Know your risk for breast cancer |

Monday Medical: Know your risk for breast cancer

Monday Medical

If you go

What: Women's Health Series: Breast Health & Genetic Testing

When: 6 p.m. Oct. 25

Where: Yampa Valley Medical Center conference rooms, 1024 Central Park Drive

Presenters: Drs. Terese I. Kaske and Malaika C. Thompson and Frannie Johnson, RN

More information: RSVP at

Editor’s note: This article is the third in a three-part series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

No two women are exactly the same, so it’s important to treat them as individuals when screening for breast cancer.

“We try to look at each woman individually,” said Dr. Terese I. Kaske, breast radiologist and medical director of Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center. “That personalized approach helps us catch small, curable cancers as early as possible.”

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer — after skin cancer — is the second most-common cancer among American women. It is estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.

But some women are more at risk than others. Below, Kaske outlines some of the main risk factors for breast cancer, and how to be proactive with screenings.

Overall risk factors

A variety of factors can put someone at higher risk for breast cancer. Some are related to lifestyle, such as drinking alcohol (no more than one alcoholic drink is recommended per day), or being overweight or obese. Others cannot be changed, such as starting menstruation early or entering menopause late.

“We ask all of those questions, and a patient’s answers go into their risk assessment,” Kaske said. Using a computer program, the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center can generate a personal lifetime risk number for each patient.

“It helps patients understand their risk. We inform women when their risk assessment identifies them to be at increased risk and explain what that means,” Kaske said. “With these results, we can set up a screening program. Depending on a patient’s risk, we may change how they’re screened, sometimes adding breast MRI or ultrasounds.”

Family history

Though the majority of women who get breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease, about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.

“If they have a family history of breast or any cancer, we like to know that so we can help them understand if they have a genetic risk for cancer,” Kaske said.

Patients with a family history of cancer or who are of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry (which increases a woman’s risk of one type of genetic mutation from one in 400 to one in 40), may want to take a genetic test for cancer. A simple blood draw or saliva test can be done at the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center, then sent to a lab, where 25 genes are analyzed to help detect the risk of eight different cancers: breast, ovarian, stomach, colon, pancreatic, melanoma, prostate and uterine.

If a mutation is found, there are various steps patients can take to help reduce their risk.

“The genetic test lets us be more proactive,” Kaske said. “We can recommend additional screening tools or preventative measures to help someone reduce their risk.”

Dense breasts

There are three types of tissues in breasts – fatty tissue, fibrous tissue and glandular tissue. It’s fairly common to have dense breasts, which means there’s relatively more fibrous and glandular tissues and less fatty tissue.

Dense breast tissue is known to diminish the ability of mammograms to detect small masses or cancers and may also be a risk factor for breast cancer. That’s why the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center acquired the newest digital technology, 3-D digital mammography or tomosynthesis, which makes it easier to find cancers and decreases the call back rate.

“Asking people to come back for further evaluation is not something we take lightly,” Kaske said. “We know it causes anxiety and added expense.”

Even with the range of breast cancer risk factors, in the majority of screenings, no cancer is found.

“Most of the time, we’re just going to offer you peace of mind,” Kaske said.

For more information, contact the Breast Health Nurse Navigator at 970-875-2623.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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