Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Breast Cancer Risk

As a classic oversharer, 
I decided it was only fair to do a post about a fairly significant part of my life.

So to start, I have a "Mom," who is the present mother in my life. 
I really don't like the term "stepmom" because it doesn't feel right to me. 
She's my mom. 

But I also had another mom. 
My biological mother 
(who I refer to as "Mommy Cheryl") 
died when I was 6 months old. 
She was 29. 
She had breast cancer years earlier, 
and after a biospoy and chemo treatments, they thought it was gone. 
Not so. 

I have absolutely zero photos of my Mommy Cheryl in my possession, 
so I stole this from my aunt's facebook. 
My Mommy Cheryl and I on the left, and my aunt and cousin on the right. 

Because of this - and the fact that I have amazing doctors - 
I've always been under heightened surveillance. 
It also doesn't help that both times I've had a mammogram, 
they've come back with "issues." 
The first resulted in a biopsy (it was benign) 
and the second was ruled out with an ultrasound. 

I've seen a well-renowned breast care specialist every 6 months for the past few years, 
and feel very fortunate to have the attention that I do. 
I have absolutely zero fear of dying young from breast cancer. 

One of the new things I participated in recently was an extensive gene cancer testing. 
Thanks to the amazingness that is research & development, 
scientists are constantly discovering new genes. 
BRACA1 and BRACA2 were the first breast cancer genes on the market, 
and very dis-concerning because, depending on the strand, the genes carry with them a likelihood of breast cancer as high as 80% (!!!!).
And since then, there have been many, many, many more genes discovered. 
Some genes are connected with more than one type of cancer, like breast and leukemia. 
Some genes they know are odd, but don't know much else. 

After going through an extensive family history 
(like, I learned things I never knew about my grandparents' siblings), 
I had my blood drawn for a series of gene testing 
(official term: "a small panel" of genes). 

Last Friday, I learned I tested NEGATIVE for all the genes. 

The relief wasn't so much for me itself, 
as it was for Aaron. 
One of the genes being tested is linked to both breast cancer 
AND leukemia at a very young age. 

Of course, this doesn't mean I'm free and clear forever. 

In general, I'm always considered a heightened risk. 
Going through all this, I've learned a lot about actions to reduce cancer. 
And it's pretty impressive how basic they are!
 Breast cancer is linked to prolonged exposure to estrogen, 
so most of the actions have to do with reducing estrogen exposure. 

Over and over again, doctors have stressed the importance of exercise. 
Fat stores estrogen so an overweight individual has a much greater risk. 
Interestingly, an overweight individual who ALSO exercises has less risk than an overweight person who doesn't exercise. 
I'm a pretty committed runner, 
so I feel confident I can check the box on this one. 

(specifically before age 30) 
I'm going to completely butcher this, 
but a woman's breasts never fully "mature" until she's pregnant. 
And at that point, the breasts "mature" and the amount of estrogen exposure is reduced.
They say 'before 30' only because after 30 means that the exposure to estrogen is lengthened compared to normal. 
Odd, huh? 

Continuing on the pregnancy path, 
breastfeeding also reduces estrogen exposure. 
There's no set time, but the motto is "the longer the better." 
So that woman on Time Magazine cover
She should be set. 

Obviously, there are a host of other things: 

- Smoking is bad (really? oh darn) 
- Vitamin D deficiency is bad (get in the sun! but don't forget sunscreen...) 
- Excessive radiation is bad (no Chernobyl vacations for me!) 

Over Christmas I had lunch with my college girlfriends, 
and was surprised to learn that one of them is also going through a very similar situation, with poor-results mammograms, biopsies, and family history evaluations. 
So it leads me to believe that this is more common than I initially understood. 
 I asked her about gene testing, but she had not pursued that yet. 
I think gene testing is interesting, 
but there are a lot of people who wouldn't want it. 
Some people view it as a Magic 8 ball that is telling you how you're going to die. 
But I think it's interesting because, if you do test positive, 
there are things you can do to reduce it. 
In my case, the Specialists are going to recommend that I have annual MRIs. 
MRIs carry less risk than mammograms (no radiation) but also show much more detail. 
 I can also do them while breastfeeding, 
as opposed to mammograms where that just doesn't work (squeeze.... haha). 
And after age 35, they have anti-breast-cancer medication 
(which I'm sort of iffy about... I've never been on consistent meds in my life). 

So that's basically the extent of my knowledge! 
Can anyone share any more?

1 comment:

  1. This is actually super helpful info to me because I'm fairly uneducated about breast cancer! Glad to know I popped out the twins a month before turning 30 and that I breastfed them for a year - phew! I haven't had a mammogram yet but my OB mentioned at my most recent check-up that I should start at 35. Something fun to look forward to...

    Glad your test was negative! Had a friend at work whose sister has breast cancer take it recently and thankfully she was also negative, so I know it's a big deal!!