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HERA Gives Women the Power to Protect Themselves from Breast Cancer

When a woman receives her screening mammogram report, the best she can hope for is a report that reads: “nothing worth noting, nothing suspicious on the image, or normal mammogram.”

But, Hoag believes that when it comes to your health, you deserve the best of everything. That’s why the Women’s Health Institute recently launched the Hoag Early Risk Assessment (HERA) Program; to give women the tools they need to take control of their breast health.

Unlike other mammography centers, HERA will now provide women who are between the ages of 35 and 55 undergoing screening mammography with both the results of their mammogram and their breast cancer risk profile.

By virtue of their gender, all women are at risk of developing breast cancer. Nationwide, one in eight women have a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, with at least 85 percent of breast cancer cases caused by risk factors other than family history.

This means “average risk,” is actually quite common, and women need to dive a little deeper to learn what steps they should take to help prevent the disease.

Just as in prior years, women fill out a questionnaire at any one of Hoag’s six imaging centers at the time of their screening mammogram. But now with the launch of the HERA program, a sophisticated computer program processes the answers and determines their unique, long-term breast cancer risk.

Now when a woman comes to Hoag for a screening mammogram, she and her physician will receive both a mammogram report and a breast cancer risk report. Karen Herold, DNP, WHCNP-BC, FNP-BC, high risk breast cancer nurse practitioner, is leading the patient outreach for the HERA program.

“We are individually reaching out to women who are at elevated risk, having a personal conversation and making tailored recommendations based on their unique risk,” Herold said. “Some programs just send a letter to the physician saying their patient is at an elevated risk, and a patient might not ever find out about her elevated risk. We want to empower women to know what their risk is and educate them about what they can do to reduce their risk.”

Even the name of the program is a wink to empowerment: Hera, the powerful queen goddess of Greek mythology, is a character known for taking matters into her own hands. The mission of HERA is to help women turn awareness into action.

Hoag piloted the program with 300 employees and found 13.8 percent were at elevated risk – higher than the national average of 12 percent. The women enrolled in the program said they appreciated being able to use the information to make educated decisions with their physicians about how to address their risk.

“We found that many of these women reduced their weight, increased their exercise, and decreased alcohol and smoking,” Herold said. “Some went to genetic counseling, had genetic testing, were referred for breast MRI’s, or began risk reducing medications. All of them said they understood their risk for developing breast cancer more than they had before [the pilot].”

Within the first month of launching HERA for the public, Hoag helped 75 women learn that they are at elevated risk.

“These women would have had no idea of their elevated risk for developing breast cancer otherwise,” Herold said. “Now they are armed with the resources about what they can do to manage their risk.”