Taking Charge: If You Are at High Risk for Breast Cancer

Preventive Treatment Options for High Risk Women


This anti-estrogen drug has been used for many years to treat breast cancer. A recent study — the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial — found that women at high risk for breast cancer who took the drug were less likely to develop tumors. After an average of four years of taking tamoxifen, these women had 45 percent fewer breast cancers than women with the same risk factors who did not take the drug.

A woman's decision about whether to take tamoxifen should consider both these benefits and the risks associated with the drug, which include an increased chance of developing uterine cancer.

Prophylactic (Preventive) Mastectomy

Some women with a very high risk of developing breast cancer may choose to have one or both breasts surgically removed. These include women with mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, a previous history of breast cancer, breast cancer in several close relatives, or a biopsy showing Lobular Carcinoma In Situ (a condition that is a marker for the potential development of invasive cancer).

Even a highly skilled breast surgeon cannot remove all the breast tissue from the chest, however, so a few women who have a preventive mastectomy still do get breast cancer. The decision to have this type of surgery must be made with a great deal of thought to the individual woman's situation. Women who consider this prevention strategy should be sure to talk to several doctors before proceeding, and evaluate the medical and emotional consequences of the surgery.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.