What is a previvor?

The breast cancer and reconstruction communities often use the term “previvor.” But what does it mean? And what does it have to do with breast reconstruction? Read on for a basic primer on this key term.

A previvor is someone who has a high risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.

The current population risk for breast cancer among women born in the United States is 12.9-percent. Put simply, a previvor is someone with an unusually high risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime—a risk higher than 12.9-percent.

How is lifetime breast cancer risk determined?

Lifetime breast cancer risk is determined using a combination of family and personal cancer history, alongside genetic information whenever possible. Practitioners who may do preliminary screening to determine your risk include primary care physicians, OB/GYNs, radiology professionals (via intake form), and breast surgeons. While there are many risk assessments out there, it is important to have a doctor calculate your risk and work with you to develop a treatment plan if applicable. Anyone with a family history of reproductive cancer should speak to their doctor, who will know the right follow up questions necessary to make a clear assessment.

What happens when you are a previvor?

Previvors typically undergo more rigorous screening and monitoring for breast cancer than folks who are of average risk. Patients work with a breast surgeon to determine both their risk-level and commensurate screening plan. These plans include imaging tests, like mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRI’s, alongside clinical breast exams and visits to your breast surgeon, all at set intervals. Your exact surveillance plan will depend on your precise risk.

High quality breast reconstruction options can be extremely important for previvors.

Breast reconstruction may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of high risk patients, but it is actually vital for previvors to know their options. Understanding the breast reconstruction techniques available helps patients plan ahead to avoid making decisions under duress after a diagnosis. It also opens risk-reducing surgical options. Patients who wish to dramatically reduce their risk often choose to have risk-reducing mastectomies. High quality breast reconstruction options and breast neurotization techniques make this option less daunting for many patients looking to move forward with their lives with less worry. Risk-reducing procedures are not right for everyone; knowing your options is the first step toward determining whether they are right for you.

Not all high-risk individuals use this term, and that’s OK!

Just because you are at an elevated risk of developing breast cancer does not mean that you need to self-identify as a previvor. The breast cancer and reconstruction communities contain many types of people, terms, and sub-communities. Our mission is to ensure that you have the information that you need, no matter where you find yourself.