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Lindsay Avner wants every woman to really understand cancer risk


The founder of Bright Pink explains how the organization's new Assess Your Risk tool can help clarify a lot of the myths around breast and ovarian cancer.
Lindsay Avner spreading her message. (Photo: Bright Pink)
Lindsay Avner spreading her message of risk-knowledge as power. (Photo: Bright Pink)

When Lindsay Avner created Bright Pink in 2007, she wanted to provide a community of support and education for women like her—young women at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Now, she’s bringing her message of risk-knowledge-as-power to all women, with the organization’s new Assess Your Risk tool.

“So many women automatically assume they’re high-risk or low-risk, and it’s not based on the true facts,” she says. “At a bare minimum, they have at least a 12 percent risk [for breast cancer], and it only goes up from there.”

In other words, forget Angelina, this is about you.

Avner, 31, lost her great grandmother and grandmother to breast cancer and watched her mother fight both diseases. When she discovered she carried a BRCA1 gene mutation that exponentially increased her risk of following in their footsteps, she opted for a preventative mastectomy, and at 23, became the youngest woman in the country to do so.

The experience inspired her to start Bright Pink, where she built educational resources for young women facing similar decisions, like patient guides and outreach groups in cities around the country. Those programs are going strong, so now, she’s broadening her focus.

Lindsay Avner (Photo: Bright Pink)
Lindsay Avner (Photo: Bright Pink)

“It’s almost a disservice to only be talking only to high-risk women, because the majority of women who are high-risk have no idea they are,” she says. “Or, when it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a woman supports ‘pink,’ but that same woman has no idea what she should be doing for herself.”

And misunderstandings are everywhere. For example, very few women know their breast tissue extends to their collarbone, she says, or that their fathers can pass breast and ovarian cancer risk on to them.

Bright Pink’s Assess Your Risk tool allows women to answer questions about (genetic and lifestyle) factors that may be contributing to their own risk while also offering educational tidbits about why the questions are relevant. For example, a question about your body mass index (BMI) is followed by an explanation of why a higher BMI may raise your risk: “Fatty tissue produces excess estrogen, high levels of which have been associated with an increased risk of breast, endometrial, and some other cancers.” (Good to know!)

Avner says this part of the tool is crucial to her mission. She wants women to know their risk, but also to really understand it, since that may be the key to managing it. “There are certain things we don’t have control over and those are really important because they influence [our health] in a huge way, but we all have the power to do something different, to take it up a notch.” She’s certainly setting a good example. —Lisa Elaine Held

To take the Assess Your Risk quiz, visit www.brightpink.org