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High-Risk Breast Program

Last Updated Friday, December 06, 2013 3:37:13 PM

The High-Risk Breast Program: As Personalized and Unique as You Are

We inherit many wonderful things from our families - things like green eyes, curly hair, musical talent, or athleticism. Unfortunately, some biological legacies, like an elevated risk for developing breast cancer, are a lot more worrisome.

The High-Risk Breast program at El Camino Hospital was developed to help identify, track, and Image of a mom and daughter concerned about Hight Risk Breast Cancer Risksprotect women who are at high risk for breast cancer. We take a comprehensive, personalized approach to the screening, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer in high-risk women. Our program relies on the collective knowledge of experts from our Women’s Health services, Genomic Medicine Institute, the Cancer Center at El Camino Hospital, and - of course - our Breast Health Center, which performs more than 10,000 studies a year. We offer the leading-edge risk assessment, diagnosis, and treatment one might expect from an academic medical center, delivered with a warm, caring touch that has earned El Camino Hospital loyal patients for decades.

What "High-Risk" Means

Elevated risk is often due to a genetic mutation - a permanent change in the normal structure of a gene. Two genes that are known to be associated with an increased risk for breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who test positive for either mutation have up to an 87 percent lifetime chance of developing breast cancer and up to a 44 percent lifetime chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Image of women taking the high risk breast cancer assessment

Additionally, both men and women who carry a BRCA mutation may be at increased risk for other cancers. Only genetic testing can determine whether a woman has one of the BRCA mutations. There are other genetic mutations that can lead to breast cancer, but they are rarer and do not increase risk as much as BRCA 1 and BRCA2.

While yearly mammography is a standard part of the annual checkup for most women over 40, women with hereditary risk factors need more than routine surveillance. At El Camino Hospital, we believe it’s essential to screen all women for elevated breast cancer risk, and we do so as part of each routine mammogram. If you are found to have a genetic predisposition, your risk is significant. Dense breast tissue is an additional risk factor usually revealed through your mammogram. We will assess your risk factors, counsel you, and help you initiate an ongoing, personalized surveillance and prevention plan.

An Initial Risk Assessment for Every Woman

There is no doubt that early identification saves lives. If you know that you are at increased risk for cancer, you and your physicians can choose preventative and therapeutic measures to prevent cancer or detect it in its earliest stages. That’s why we offer all screening mammogram patients a chance to learn if they are at increased risk for breast or other cancers.

  • Between 3 and 6 percent of women with no history of cancer who come in for a mammogram will fall into the increased-risk category
  • Women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer may be at increased risk for recurrence due to environmental factors or an inherited susceptibility.

As part of our High-Risk Breast Program, we assess breast cancer risk for every woman who comes in for a screening mammogram. We give each patient an easy, 5-10-minute screening questionnaire to be filled out on a tablet PC prior to the mammogram. Risk assessment results are delivered to both the referring physician and the patient.

If you are assessed as being at increased risk for breast cancer and/or a genetic mutation associated with increased cancer risk, the High-Risk Breast Program’s specially trained Nurse Navigator will meet with you to explain your assessment results, answer your questions, and discuss next steps.

The Nurse Navigator - A Caring Guide Every Step of the Way

At the center of the team is our nurse navigator, a caring guide who helps patients move successfully through risk analysis, prevention options, and Image of the High-Risk Breast Program Nurse Navigatortreatment, if necessary. We pair each high-risk patient with a dedicated, specially trained nurse navigator. This caring guide functions as an educator, coordinator, and patient advocate. The nurse navigator is an ongoing, supportive presence, arranging appointments and follow-ups, providing any necessary physician referrals, and keeping the patient’s primary care doctor informed every step of the way.

To talk to one of our Breast Health nurse navigators and learn more about the High-Risk Breast Program at El Camino Hospital, call

Getting ready for your risk assessment

  • Please arrive at least 15 minutes before your appointment to complete the assessment. You will be asked to fill out the questionnaire on a tablet PC before your mammogram.

    • Before your appointment, please gather the following information on your primary and secondary relatives (children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles)

      -History of cancer in your family

      -Year of diagnosis

      -Age they were diagnosed