Breast cancer: Why there’s more to it than you think

Beyond BRCA: Understanding the risks and management of breast cancer on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.

Imagenetics image for breast cancer lecture

You eat a balanced diet. You exercise. You don’t smoke and have limited your alcohol intake. You live an overall healthy lifestyle, and while all those good habits can lower your risk for breast cancer, there can be much more going on at the genetic level when it comes to cancer.

“Cancer is very complex,” explains Larissa Risty, M.S., a certified genetic counselor at Sanford Health. “There can be so many different contributing factors to a diagnosis. When we look at a person’s risk for breast cancer, we really have to consider her individual history and family history.”

It’s this complex topic of breast cancer risk that will be the focus of an upcoming Sanford Imagenetics community lecture on exploring genetics. Risty will present alongside Jesse Dirkson, M.D., a breast surgeon at Sanford Health. Together, they will discuss risk factors, how to identify if someone is at a higher risk and then steps that could help lower a person’s risk.


Lifestyle risks are those a person can control. These can include:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not being physically active

Trying to lower your alcohol intake, being active and maintaining a healthy weight are all good options to not only lower your cancer risk but to improve your overall quality of life.

Other factors

However, there are also factors that you cannot change. For instance, being a woman is a risk factor for breast cancer as is getting older. Having a family history of breast cancer can also be an indicator that you could develop the disease.

Cancer can also be a result of a mutation in a woman’s genes. The most well-known genes associated with increased risk for breast cancer are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. A BRCA mutation can be inherited from either your mother or father. Women who have inherited a mutation in either of these genes are at a higher risk to develop cancer in their lifetime. That risk is somewhere between 50 and 87 percent. The diagnosis often comes earlier and is more likely to be found in both breasts.

But the BRCA genes aren’t the only genetic risk factors for breast cancer. There are a number of other genes associated with increased risk for breast cancer including the CHEK2 gene.

For women who are identified as possibly having an increased risk for breast cancer, Risty explains that one option is the Sanford Breast Specialty Clinic.

“Part of that clinic visit is to complete a breast cancer risk assessment,” says Risty. “This helps us decide what is best for each individual woman. We discuss options such as increased surveillance, genetic testing, prophylactic surgery or medications.”

This assessment gives women the information they need to make the best decisions for them and their families.

Upcoming lecture

To learn more about genetic and other risks for breast cancer, attend the Sanford Imagenetics community lecture, “Beyond BRCA: Understanding the risks and management of breast cancer”, on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. This free event is held at the Sanford Imagenetics courtyard at 1321 W. 22nd St in Sioux Falls.

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Posted In Cancer, Genetics, News, Women's

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