News Release

December 4, 2007

Contact: Maureen McGuire, 860-679-4523

Breast Cancer Prevention Programs at UConn Health Center

State-of-the-Art Care from Nationally Recognized Experts

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Most women worry about their risk of breast cancer and wonder what they can do to lower their risk. For women with known risk factors for breast cancer, the anxiety is even more intense.

Now, women can find answers from a team of nationally-prominent prevention experts at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

“A generation ago, it would have been unimaginable to have an entire program dedicated to cancer prevention. However, times have dramatically changed and we can now offer women with increased risk a variety of evidence-based, proven tools to help lower their risk of breast cancer,” said Carolyn D. Runowicz, M.D., director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Health Center and chair of the National Cancer Advisory Board.

“As a university hospital, we have many resources and experienced physicians who can help women make informed and empowering decisions about lowering their breast cancer risk,” added Dr. Runowicz, who was the first breast cancer survivor to serve as President of the American Cancer Society.

Here is a look at prevention services for women with increased risk for breast cancer:

Medical Management: Women over age 55 who have had previous breast biopsies or younger women who have had previous breast biopsies, as well as relatives with breast cancer, may benefit from two FDA-approved medications to lower their breast cancer risk. Richard Everson, M.D., director of prevention programs at the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, specializes in the ongoing management of these medications: tamoxifen and raloxifene (also known as Evista).

“These are highly effective medications with proven benefits, but like all drugs, each has side-effects that need to be carefully monitored and managed,” Dr. Everson said.

In addition, Dr. Everson can help determine if women are eligible to participate in a new breast cancer prevention study. The ExCel research study is an international trial that is measuring the efficacy of a particular medication to prevent breast cancer. The medication is from a class of drugs, aromatase inhibitors, that suppresses estrogen production. Aromatase inhibitors are already approved to treat advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women whose disease has progressed following tamoxifen therapy.

“This is an exciting new study looking at a medication that is already approved to treat breast cancer and may have fewer side effects that our existing prevention drugs,” Dr. Everson said.

The ExCel study will last five years and is expected to follow more than 4,500 postmenopausal women from the United States, Canada and Spain. To be eligible, women must be 35 years of age or older and have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Hereditary and Familial Cancers: While most breast cancers are not hereditary, about 10 percent of breast cancer cases can be linked to genetic or familial patterns. The Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center offers complete care for women who have questions about their family history of breast cancer or other cancers.

Services include a very strong genetic counseling and testing program, offered by experienced genetic counselors. Working with the genetic specialists is Molly Brewer, M.D., the director of gynecologic oncology, who helps women make decisions about how to lower their cancer risk, including risk-reducing surgery.

“Throughout my career, I’ve come to see each cancer – especially ovarian cancer, which is very difficult to treat when detected late – as a missed opportunity for prevention,” said Dr. Brewer. “Through our prevention programs, we can guide women through the entire process of understanding their risk and taking action to protect their health.”

To learn more, call 800-535-6232.

Risk Factors

According to the American Cancer Society and the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Gender
  • Age – the incidence of breast cancer increases with age
  • Genetic risk factors – such as the inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations
  • Family history of breast cancer – especially among first-degree relatives (mother, sister or daughter)
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Race – white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer
  • Abnormal breast biopsy reports
  • Early age at start of menstrual cycle and late menopause
  • Previous chest radiation
  • DES exposure

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