Published on August 08, 2019

Essentia Health now offers high-risk breast cancer program

A new high-risk breast cancer program is being offered at Essentia Health-Fargo and Essentia Health St. Mary’s-Detroit Lakes. This program is a specialized component of the breast health program focused on helping patients understand their risk for developing breast cancer and how to best monitor for breast cancer and reduce their risk.

“Breast cancer is a common problem. It’s also a problem we’re really good at treating. So, when it comes to breast cancer, if we can identify breast cancers confined to the breast, meaning not spread to the lymph nodes or anywhere else in the body, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent,” explains Dr. Ben Smith, diagnostic radiologist at Essentia Health.

The goal of the program is two-fold, patients and a breast health provider work together to develop a personalized plan of care to reduce risk for breast cancer and provide the patient and their primary care provider with the most appropriate measures for early detection of cancer.

The high-risk breast cancer program is aimed at those who have a 20 percent or higher lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Those considered to be at highest risk for breast cancers include:

  • Women who have:
    • several close relatives on the same side of the family with breast cancer
    • a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer at age 50 or younger
    • two first degree relatives (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer at any age
    • a close male relative with breast cancer at any age
  • Those with or have a close family member with an abnormal gene that indicates the risk of breast cancer
  • Those who have had a breast biopsy with abnormal cells
  • Those who have had radiation treatments to the chest area under the age of 30 for Hodgkin’s Disease or lymphoma
  • Women who took DES (diethylstilbestrol) in the 1940’s to 1960’s to prevent miscarriage

While the program is new, Dr. Smith says early indications show that it’s working. “I can tell you that we certainly have detected more cancers through this program. Just anecdotally, we are finding cancers early.”

Learn more about the high-risk breast cancer program by visiting or talk with your primary care provider.

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