Get an annual MRI, recommends Sunnybrook Oncologist

By Patricia Thangaraj

Get an annual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

This is the advice that Medical Oncologist at the Odette Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Dr. Ellen Warner is sending out to women who are at a very high risk for breast cancer.

In an interview with the Annie Parker Foundation, she stated women between the ages of 30 and 70, with a strong family history of breast cancer, have a very high risk of getting breast cancer. She explained that persons with certain inherited genetic mutations have an even higher risk of getting breast cancer. The risks of getting breast cancer increases with age within these high risk groups as well as in the general population at average breast cancer risk.

For screening these very high risk patients, it is ideal to combine breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) with mammography. This leads to 90% of breast cancers being detected early, which means that the cure rate is higher and less intense treatment is often possible.

The Odette Cancer Centre conducts both of these procedures on an annual basis for these high risk women who fall within this age category. The Centre also conducts genetic counselling and testing for women who qualify based on their personal and family history of cancer, age, ethnicity and other determinants, stated Dr. Warner.

She recommends that women who believe that they are high-risk see a doctor first to start discussing their risk factors and how formal risk assessment at a cancer genetics centre and a personalized breast screening program might benefit them.

There are also hormonal treatment options that higher risk women have open to them if they want to reduce their risk of getting breast cancer such as tamoxifen, exemestane, and letrozole. These drugs are generally taken once a day over a 5-year period, said Dr. Warner.

Coupled with a healthy diet and exercising regularly, taking one of these drugs can help reduce the likelihood of getting breast cancer for women who are predisposed to getting this disease and reduce the risks of a reoccurrence for women who have already been diagnosed with this disease if it is found to be hormone-sensitive, she said.

However, these drugs are not something that can be bought off the shelves at any pharmacy. Women must visit their doctor and discuss their health options, family history and other risk factors and their doctor would prescribe this hormonal treatment if the physician feels that it might benefit his/her patient and the patient is willing to accept the small, but real risks.

In other news, the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook will soon start an online support group for the male partners of their young breast cancer patients as they recognize that these partners also go through a lot of emotional turmoil from the time of diagnosis, during active treatment and beyond.

Meanwhile, the now online support group for the women themselves, called the “In the PYNK,” which started several years ago, continues to provide a support system for their young breast cancer patients, she added.

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