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Cancer Genetics

Projection of Cancer for Smokers who Stopped

05/31/2002

Question:

If I am 30 years of age and have smoked for only two years but cancer, as I have just found out, is bad on my father’s side of the family. I have eight sisters of which four have had breast removals. What are my chances of getting this disease when I stop smoking? In addition, what suggestions naturally can you offer for quitting smoking aides? I have had a mammogram and it was fine but how can a doctor find if you have cancer anywhere else in your body? Is there a blood test or do they find it when it is too late?

Answer:

To answer your question, I am going to address smoking and breast cancer risk, family history and breast cancer risk, and breast cancer screening as separate issues.

In regard to the association between cigarette smoking and breast cancer risk, several studies have shown a very small increased risk for breast cancer in women who actively smoke. The risk is higher in women who smoke more packs per day or for a longer period of time. Therefore, the sooner you quit, the lower your risk will be. And as you probably know, smoking has harmful effects on many other parts of the body so quitting will also help your overall health. I would recommend talking to your physician about smoking cessation programs. Many of these programs involve taking a prescription medication, and your physician would need to prescribe and monitor you while on these medications.

In regard to your family history of breast cancer, we know that having multiple relatives with breast cancer can potentially increase ones breast cancer risk, even if these relatives are related through your father, as in your case. I would recommend seeing a genetic counselor in your area to discuss your family history. The counselor can perform a risk assessment and discuss with you how your family history impacts your risk for developing breast cancer. To find a genetic counselor in your area go to the website listed below. If you have specific questions about the genetic counseling process, you can call the genetics center and discuss these over the phone before your appointment.

Lastly, in regard to breast cancer screening, the American Cancer society recommends the following:

- yearly mammograms starting at age 40 - clinical breast exam by a physician every 3 years starting at age 20 and annually starting at age 40 - monthly self breast exams starting at age 20

However, if your genetic evaluation shows that you are at an increased risk, it may be recommended that you begin this screening earlier. There are also other ways that you can reduce your risk, which include taking certains medications or undergoing preventative surgery. These approaches are only used in women at very high risk however. The genetic counselor can discuss all of these options with you.

Related Resources:

Find a genetic counselor

For more information:

Go to the Cancer Genetics health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Rebecca J Nagy, MS, CGC Rebecca J Nagy, MS, CGC
Formerly, Clinical Instructor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University