The management of women at high risk for the development of breast cancer: risk estimation and preventative strategies

Cancer Treat Rev. 2003 Apr;29(2):79-89. doi: 10.1016/s0305-7372(02)00107-x.


Despite recent progress in the diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to the management of women with breast cancer, at least one third of these women will ultimately die from their disease. This resulted in a new focus on breast cancer prevention, especially for the woman designed as "high-risk". The continuing challenge is to identify reliable markers to accurately recognize this group of women, who are more likely to develop breast cancer. This will allow a targeted specific counseling and the application of preventative measures. Management options in high-risk women include intensive cancer surveillance, chemoprevention (mainly using tamoxifen), and prophylactic surgery (preferentially total mastectomy). Cancer surveillance is the most preferred management option. Currently, no data exists comparing prophylactic mastectomy vs. surveillance vs. chemoprevention. Thus, despite significant advances in our understanding of the biology of breast cancer, many questions remain unanswered concerning the optimal management of the high-risk woman. Patient counseling has a central role in the decision-making process and should be based on a multidisciplinary approach. The individual woman will make the final decision based on the amount of risk she is willing to accept. It is hoped that other preventative methods, such as gene therapy based on an accurate identification of specific genetic changes, will be developed in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Chemoprevention
  • Counseling
  • Decision Making
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Mastectomy / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Rate


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents