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We know that being a woman and aging are risk factors in developing breast cancer. However, there are certain factors that can increase a person's risk of developing the disease - more so than just the average woman.
According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, if a person has one (or a combination) of these 4 characteristics they are considered "high risk:"
Definition: HIGH RISK
- Is a confirmed carrier (has been genetically tested) of BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations
- Is a first degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) of a confirmed BRCA1 or BRCA2 carrier
- Has a family history of breast cancer (usually multiple family members)
- Has a personal history of high levels of radiation exposure to the chest (ie/ radiation therapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma)
What's the deal with BRCA1 and BRCA2?Everyone has these genes. In fact, they are actually designed to protect us from developing breast and ovarian cancers. However, when there is a mutation in the gene, DNA repair doesn't happen as it should - leading to the overproduction of cells (or cancer). This kind of mutation can be inherited from maternal and paternal sides of the family. Click HERE for more information.
You aren't doomedWomen with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations have a 40-85% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. However, only 5-10% of breast cancer cases are the result of hereditary/genetic factors. What does this mean? It means that being high risk does not give you a 100% guarantee of developing breast cancer. Rather, the term "high risk" is a classification that medical professionals (and the women and men in question) can use to increase their understanding of the situation and to take preventative measures, if necessary. If you are high risk or you know someone who is, don't freak out. This knowledge takes you one step closer to being in charge of the decisions surrounding your breast health. Find out about the preventative measures that high risk individuals can take below!
What can you do?
Speak to your health care providerIf you are unsure about your breast cancer risk or think you might be high risk, the first thing you can do is speak to your health care provider. From there, you can be referred to a genetic counsellor.
Genetic counselling/testingGenetic counsellors help you understand what your risk of breast cancer is. With the counsellor's help, you will be assessed depending on your medical and familial history. From there, it can be decided if you are eligibe for genetic testing. Genetic testing occurs as a blood or saliva test to determine if you have any genetic mutations that could predispose you to breast cancer (like BRCA1 or BRCA2).
Preventative treatment options for high risk women
- Risk-reduced surgery (AKA preventative mastectomy): the removal of one or both healthy breasts
- Chemoprevention: the use of drugs to reduce risk in healthy individuals
Lifestyle changesUltimately, every choices is yours to make. While, the preventative treatments mentioned above are the most impactful in reducing breast cancer risk, they aren't for everyone. Other basic steps you can take to try to reduce your risk every day are:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Staying active
- Eating healthy
- Quitting smoking
Screening is your friendAccording to Cancer Care Ontario, women who are high risk only make up 1% of the general population. However, high risk women tend to develop more aggressive breast cancer and at earlier ages. As such, breast screening for these individuals is very important. It is important that you check what the screening guidelines are in your province/state. However, if you are a high risk woman living in Ontario, you may be eligible for the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP), which uses a combination of MM/MRI screening for high risk women ages 30 to 69 in hopes to "improve their quality of care, ensuring that they receive the benefits of screening and promote the early detection of breast cancer." The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has created a series of screening recommendations depending on the type of risk factor(s) you possess. See the full chart here and speak to your health care provider about the screening options available to you.
You are your best advocateAs a high risk young women, you are you best advocate. It's unfortunate, but don't be surprised if your concern gets shrugged off with the all too familiar response: "You're too young to get breast cancer." If you think you might be high risk, advocate for yourself. Ensure your health care provider speaks to you seriously about your risk and get the referral you need. Again, no one is guaranteed to get breast cancer. But, you have the right to be informed about your breast health so you can make the decisions that feel right for you.
Name: Miranda Germani Age: 32 City: Toronto Miranda is passionate about health and health care, personally, professionally, and philanthropically. She has been a dedicated volunteer for most of her life, and believes in the difference volunteering can make to us personally, causes we care about, our communities, and globally. Her volunteer efforts were recognized by the Governor General with an official Canadian honour, the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers. She recently supported Rethink at the Queen’s Plate and has attended Boobyball. At the Queen’s Plate, she chatted with fellow supporters, passed out fans to help racegoers beat the heat and learn more about Rethink, and even got to watch the race from the prime spot near the finish line and see the winning horses close-up in the winner’s circle!
What do you do when you are not changing the world with philanthropic gestures? Most of my career has been in health care, both in Canada and abroad. The past two years I juggled the demands of both studying and working full-time, so after graduating with my Master’s of Science I am now enjoying having some time to relax. I value and enjoy exercising, particularly barre, yoga, and rowing. I adore taking advantage of the diverse opportunities increasingly awesome Toronto has, such as the ballet, long walks, and events. I got married recently, so am enjoying day to day life with my new husband John too! What is one thing you have re-thought in your life? How did you approach it? One thing I have learnt is that it’s important to not count myself out and put myself forward for opportunities I want. I have in recent years done this by making decisions based on ‘what would I regret more?’ and applying for opportunities that I knew might be competitive. By doing so, I moved to Paris for a spring-time, was accepted for and then graduated from a prestigious program at a world-class university, and secured several wonderful jobs. What is the most important thing to know when it comes to donating to a cause? It is very important to me that the cause I am donating to is efficient and effective in making the impact they are setting out to achieve, like the difference I see Rethink is making. I have withdrawn from supporting a particular charity in the past as although it was focused on an issue that I care about deeply, I felt they were disorganized and wasting time and money. A person who gives back that you aspire to: I prefer not to focus on particular people, as I think everyone can make a difference in their own way. Many of my friends and family members, including my mother, donate their time to support causes they care about. However, Sheryl Sandberg is a particular role model of mine. As Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, author, and philanthropist, she has inspired and brought together millions of women and men through her Lean In organization. The areas she has focused on, including gender equality, poverty and equity, health, and the environment, align with my passions. How do you find a cause you are passionate about? For this and other reasons, it can be helpful to put some thought into what your key values are and three keywords you would use to define yourself; this can help guide what causes you’ll focus on. There’s a wealth of information online, so I have found new causes to support by entering these keywords I’ve chosen there. I think it is important to be conscious of the time and/or money that you have to give at this point, and consider how best to use it. Charitable support is an increasingly crowded space; we cannot possibly give financially or otherwise to every cause we are contacted about, so I prefer this focused approach. I have consciously decided to focus my philanthropic efforts on the areas of health, gender equality, and lifelong learning. My passion for health is based on the importance I place on healthy lifestyle, how much I value my personal good health, and my strong belief in universal health care. Unfortunately, many women in my family have had breast cancer, thus my support of Rethink. I’ve recently focused my financial donations in helping Nepal from a health perspective after the earthquakes, as I had the privilege and truly life-changing experience of going to that country shortly after the earthquakes. I also volunteer with Lean In Canada and my alma mater the London School of Economics. What is innovative about the Rethink approach? Rethink is particularly strong at knowing its community and concentrating on and tailoring every effort to that group to be acutely relevant. There are key challenges that younger women with breast cancer face, and Rethink’s initiatives are very pertinent, such as the Rethink Young Women’s Network Facebook group, LiveLaughLearn video series with practical tips for women with breast cancer, Someone I Love Has Breast Cancer useful tips, as well as the kids’ guide and parent booklet for young families. Many young women spend a lot of time online and expect high-quality digital materials, and the website meets this need with a wealth of material. What inspires you daily? I try to be mindful of little things throughout my day and find joy in each of them, such as a pretty flower next to the sidewalk, a funny photo a friend has emailed, or the way the light hits a building. I think being negative and negative people are exhausting, so I consciously try to be consistently pleasant for myself and those around me. Why should people support a cause they are passionate about? I think volunteering, donating, and otherwise supporting causes are an essential part of being a valuable member of our society. Support doesn’t need to be directly financial, people may not have the funds to spare but almost everyone has a few hours they can volunteer. Through donating my time and skills in communications and event organization, I’ve helped predominately health causes raise in excess of one million dollars. Selecting and supporting a cause a person particularly cares about not only benefits the cause, but offers a wealth of possible personal benefits too, such as meeting new people that can turn into lifelong friends, experience that can help in career progression, access to enjoyable events, etc. Through volunteering for the McMaster Charity Ball throughout my four years studying at the university, I met some amazing friends that helped shape my university experience. Particularly earlier in my career, my volunteer experience helped me successful apply for several job opportunities. There’s also some cool behavioural science research that backs supporting a cause. Donating and volunteering encourages others to do the same, can make us happy and possibly healthier, typically become a positive habit, and we like being part of a community. I greatly enjoyed attending the Queen’s Plate horse races with Rethink. It was enjoyable to talk about an issue I care about with like-minded individuals, spend time with myhusband and the Rethink team, and enjoy the stellar event too.
When I give back I feel energized, part of a community, and like I’m having an impact beyond me.
December 29 2009, 1:03 PM
How do you talk to a 3 year-old about death, especially when you have cancer?
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It FiguresIt Figures! prides itself in providing comfortable, flattering post-mastectomy and body-shaping swimwear for women of all ages.
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Ultimately, do what makes you feel good! Whether that's wearing prostheses, not wearing prostheses, showing your scars or covering them up.
You are strong. You are beautiful. And you deserve to feel...
On June 21st, 2017, Rethink partnered with Aphria to host our second annual Medical Cannabis and Cancer Care forum. If you weren't able to join us, here's what you missed. And, if you were there, here's a recap!
On June 21st it was all about medical cannabis and cancer care. There was a great turnout as people were eager to hear about the latest in medical cannabis information, research, and advocacy.
How can medical cannabis help someone who is undergoing cancer treatment?
How can someone access medical cannabis in Canada?
Why is there so much stigma around medical cannabis use?
What needs to be done in terms of medical cannabis education for health care professionals and government agencies in Canada?
THE CONCLUSIONS:Ultimately, it was concluded that there is still a lot to be done for medical cannabis research and education in Canada. Our panelists argued that without proper education as to what medical cannabis is and how it is beneficial, the stigma about its use cannot and will not be reduced. But, in the mean time, we must continue to advocate and educate - focusing on the breakthroughs in research around medical cannabis and cancer care, as opposed to vilifying the plant because recreational use is not yet legal in Canada. Patients have the right to ask for a second opinion if their doctor refuses to suggest medical cannabis as part of their treatment plan. And, ultimately, as Canadian citizens, we "vote with our wallets" (Erin Prosk) by choosing to support trustworthy cannabis clinics/centres and raising the standard of care that they offer. If you weren't able to make it to the forum and you want to know more about medical cannabis and cancer care:
Check out the full recording of the forum on our Facebook page!
A BIG THANK YOU
Thank you to our amazing panelists, Dr. Vincent Maida, Lynda Balneaves, Erin Prosk, Beth Harris, and Julie Vickaryous. And thank you to Aphria for partnering with us in making this forum possible.