Breast Cancer: survivor, are you at risk?
Risk for developing a secondary breast cancer after treatment for a childhood, adolescent, or young adult cancer depends on the type of treatment one received for their original diagnosis. While secondary breast cancers affect primarily females, males are also at risk as they, too, have breast tissue.
Known Risk Factors:
- Chest radiation (>/= 20 Gy)
- TOTAL dose of chest radiation received
- Early menstruation (before the age of 12)
- Late Menopause (after age 55)
- Never having a baby OR having a baby after the age of 30
- Having a close relative with breast cancer
- Leading an inactive lifestyle
Note: TBI should be factored into the total dose of chest radiation
Possible Risk Factors:
- High in fat diet
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Never having breastfed
- Birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy taken for long periods of time
This risk for secondary breast cancer begins to rise between 5-9 years after the radiation therapy ends and continues to rise, thus breast cancer occurs in much younger women and the risk does not plateau.
There is no way to prevent the development of a secondary breast cancer; one must, therefore, be committed to surveillance in the name of early detection.
If you receive 20 Gy or greater of radiation to your chest during you cancer treatment, then the monitoring recommendations are as follows:
- Be Breast Aware: report any lumps, bumps, pain, discharge, or any other change to your healthcare provider immediately
- Clinical Breast Exam [CBE] performed once a year until you are 25 years old, then every 6 months thereafter
- Have a yearly mammogram and breast MRI starting at age 25 or 8 years after you received the radiation; ideally, alternating at 6 month intervals
What if I received less than 20 GY?
You may still be at increased risk; therefore, it is important for you to discuss this risk and devise a plan for monitoring with your primary care provider that is appropriate and acceptable to you.
What if you didn’t received any chest radiation whatsoever?
You may still be at risk if you received akylators [i. e. cytoxan], anthracyclines [i. e. doxorubicin], DTIC, or carmustine as part of your therapy. In particular, survivors of sarcoma and leukemia seem to carry an increased risk for the subsequent development of breast cancer.
LifeStyle Changes you may want to consider:
- Eat more fruits and veggies
- 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week
- Lose weight
- Stop smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
- If you have a baby, try to breastfeed 3-4 months
- If you need hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills, discuss the risks and benefits within the context of your cancer treatment history
Disclaimer: This content is intended for survivors of childhood cancers and is provided for educational purposes only. This is not medical advice; please consult your healthcare providers with questions and/or concerns.
Finally, there are a few specific diagnoses that are associated with an increased risk of secondary breast cancer: the sarcomas, the leukemias, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Further Reading and Resources: