Online tool assesses breast cancer risk

When the ThedaCare Breast Cancer team held a free breast cancer screening clinic one Saturday morning, the turnout wasn’t as high as they hoped.

“We wondered why people weren’t taking advantage of it, because it was a free clinic,” said Bobbi McGivern, genetic counselor. “Then we realized we needed to change the approach and try to reach more people in a different way.”

The introduction of an online breast cancer risk assessment tool, available to anyone, will hopefully meet the breast cancer team’s mission of identifying high-risk patients and offering increased screening and interventions.

The assessment tool “is another way for our patients to learn more about their risk, on their own time and at home,” said Dr. Edgard Badine, oncologist at the ThedaCare Medical Centers in Shawano and New London. “Our hope is they also will encourage friends and family to take advantage of the assessment.”

The breast cancer risk assessment poses a series of concise health-related questions, assessing lifestyle risk factors such as postmenopausal BMI, smoking, alcohol habits and exercise; hereditary risk factors such as Ashkenazi Jewish descent, breast cancer in the immediate family and the presence of the key gene mutations; as well as age and personal history.

Patient data is protected by privacy regulations, and consumers will receive legal and privacy information before they take the assessment, McGivern said.

In 2009, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published new recommendations suggesting women should start mammography screening at age 50 instead of age 40, it caused some confusion among patients, McGivern said.

“What many people missed from that report is those recommendations are only for low-risk patients,” she said. “You need to know what your risk is.”

The risk assessment helps identify those high-risk patients and encourages them to begin early screening and intervention. Physician recommendations to those patients might include 3D mammography, breast MRI screening or chemoprevention, such as Tamoxifen therapy.

The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment is available at and through ThedaCare’s Facebook page.