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Christina Applegate's Breast Cancer: FAQ

Applegate's Breast Cancer Found Early; Full Recovery Expected, Says Actress' Publicist
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The report I saw said breast and cervical cancer but not ovarian cancer.

Cervical [cancer is] not related. But her risk of having the breast cancer gene is now up to 6%, 7% and there are different ways to calculate that. And now she's only 36 years old, her mom had breast cancer -- I'll presume it was postmenopausal -- so I'm at least having a conversation with her about genetic testing [if I were her doctor].

Applegate's breast cancer was found through MRI. It's not clear from her publicist's statement if this was her first, baseline MRI or if she's gotten other MRIs to screen for breast cancer. In March 2007, an expert panel convened by the American Cancer Society recommended that only women at high risk of breast cancer get annual MRI screening in addition to mammography. Where do you stand on MRI screening?

It depends what month you ask me. It is a very, very controversial topic. We are using the recommendations that you just alluded to. But there is no data -- the women who are getting routine MRI -- and I use that term in italics because I'm not sure exactly what that means, is that every year or every other year? -- are people who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 [breast cancer] gene, which is why I think for somebody like her, it would be very important to do. Other than that, women who are at very high risk -- and very high risk in our practice means a Gail risk of 20% or higher.

Editor's note:The Gail risk model, which is for women who are at least 35 years old, estimates a woman's odds of developing breast cancer based on her current age, her age when she first menstruated, her age when she first gave birth, family history of breast cancer, past biopsies, and race.

We also look to see if they have dense breasts, because it makes it theoretically more difficult to read the mammogram. So in her particular case, even if she didn't test positive, she's clearly young, there's clearly a family history, she's clearly had a breast cancer, she probably has dense breasts given her age, I would certainly consider getting MRIs on her every year or every other year, probably every year. If she didn't have a family history and she's 55 and her breasts are a little bit less dense because she's had a couple of kids ... then I might not get that routine MRI.

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