Program Helps Women Understand Their Own Breast Cancer Risk

URMC First in Upstate New York to Offer Risk Assessment Program

July 30, 2001

A team of physicians from the University of Rochester Medical Center's James P. Wilmot Cancer Center has begun offering a breast cancer risk assessment program for women who are worried about the diagnosis. The program helps women understand personal risk factors that could lead to breast cancer.

This is the first program in Upstate New York to offer a comprehensive approach to help women understand what chance they have of developing cancer, and to allay the fears of those who may have overestimated their likelihood of a diagnosis. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and each year, more than 44,000 die from it.

A team of physicians and nurses provide individualized screenings, self-examination education and preventative therapies for high-risk women. The risk assessment program is part of Project Believe, a Strong Health initiative to build a health community by 2020.

"This is the first time a comprehensive approach is being used to help women understand what chance they have of developing cancer, and to allay the fears of those who may have overestimated their likelihood of a diagnosis," said Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H., Co-Director of the Comprehensive Breast Care Program.

The program will identify women who are at a high risk of a cancer diagnosis to encourage preventive measures as quickly as possible. Early detection is the most effective way to prevent serious illness.

Using a mathematical model, experts will project individual probabilities of developing breast cancer. This model incorporates race, age of first menstruation, childbirth and menopause, family history of breast cancer, number of previous breast biopsies, and if atypical hyperplasia was identified on a prior biopsy.

In general, most women overestimate their individual risk of breast cancer. This model, appropriately applied, can be very reassuring to a woman who estimates her risk to be above average.

"For women who are at elevated risk, we want to begin preventive measures as quickly as possible," said Gretchen M. Ahrendt, M.D., program co-director and surgeon.

Those determined to be at elevated risk may choose further screening techniques to supplement self-examination and mammography, as well as chemoprevention measures or participation in clinical trials to combat the disease, such as the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene (STAR.)

The Risk Assessment Program follows the multidisciplinary approach of the Comprehensive Breast Care Program, which brings experts from all specialties together to prepare individualized treatment plans.

For more information about the Comprehensive Breast Care Program, please call (716) 275-4651.

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Leslie White
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