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Important Things to Know About Breast Cancer

Who is at risk to develop breast cancer?

Every woman is at risk for breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer of women and as you get older, your risk for breast cancer increases. Three-quarters of all breast cancers occur in women over age 50. Though rare, men can also develop breast cancer.

But aren’t there women with special risk factors?

Risk is somewhat higher in women whose close female relatives – their mothers or sisters – have had the disease. Also, women who never have had children or had their first child after age 30 seem to be at somewhat higher risk for breast cancer.

What can be done to protect against breast cancer?

It’s still not clear what causes breast cancer or how to prevent it. The best protection against breast cancer is to detect it at its earliest stage and to treat it promptly. Researchers are investigating the possible roles of heredity, the environment, lifestyle and diet.

What does the American Cancer Society recommend for early detection of breast cancer?

The recommendation of the American Cancer Society and the nation’s leading health organizations is this three-step early detection program:

  • Have regular mammograms: Screening mammograms should begin by age 40. Have one every year or two to age 49, and every year after age 50.
  • See your doctor for regular breast exams: at least every three years between the ages of 20 and 40 and every year after 40.
  • Practice monthly breast self-exams: ask your doctor, nurse or mammography technician to teach you the proper method. the local office of the American Cancer Society can give you a how-to-do diagram as well. These guidelines for early detection of breast cancer are for women who have no symptoms. They are designed to find breast cancer at the earliest stages when there is the best opportunity to treat it successfully. If you have signs or symptoms of possible breast cancer, your doctor may recommend a different program.


What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?

The most common sign is a lump or thickening that does not go away or seem to change. Most lumps in the breast are not cancerous – four out of five are from other causes. All lumps should be checked by a doctor. Other signs to be aware of if they persist are swelling, puckering or dimpling, skin irritation, pain, or tenderness of the nipple. If any of these symptoms or signs occur in a man, they should be checked immediately.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a safe, low-dose X-ray study of the internal tissues of your breasts. A mammogram is a simple exam used to determine the possibility of irregularities within the breast. They can reveal areas too small or too deep to feel but that may require further investigation.

Why do you want us to bring our old mammograms?

The detection of breast cancer cannot be optimizedwithout previous studies that tell us about the changes of you breast over time. A patient’s first study is her “baseline” study. It is used as a comparison for all future mammograms to see if there are any changes. Having your previous mammogram helps us reduce the number of additional views which may be needed when there is an area of possible concern.

Why is it necessary to compress the breast?

Compression separates the breast tissue, allowing optimal visualization of areas of concern that might be obscured by other tissues. Compression reduces the radiation dosage and improves image quality by decreasing breast thickness and making the thickness uniform across the breast. Compression also prevents patient movement which can cause blurring of the image.

Older woman

Why do some patients need ultrasound of the breast or additional mammogram views?

Ultrasound of the breast is used most often to evaluate a palpable lump. It can tell us specifically whether the area of concern is a cyst (fluid filled) or solid. The precise shape, size and consistency of the area of concern can often be determined through ultrasound. Cysts are very common in the breast and are benign (meaning they aren’t cancerous). If the area being examined shows a simple cyst on the ultrasound, no additional mammogram images will be needed. If it not a simple cyst, then additional mammogram views maybe necessary. Spot compression mammogram images allow the radiologist to evaluate areas of concern in the breast and determine, in some cases, whether the area of concern is simply overlying “normal” tissue or a real abnormality. The spot compression device places focal pressure over the specific area of concern separating the tissues to an optimal level. Another tool is “magnification views.” This is simply an enlargement of the image over the area of concern that allows us to see small details, such as small calcifications, more clearly.

How Can I Get the Most Out of my Mammogram?

  • Schedule your mammogram when your breasts are least tender to allow for optimal compression. This is usually the week after the onset of your period.
  • Remember to abstain from using powder, deodorant or body cream on your chest and underarm areas of the day of the exam and wear a 2-piece outfit.
  • Bring your previous mammograms so we can perform the best diagnostic evaluation possible.
  • Be prepared to answer detailed questions about your personal and family health history.
  • Take personal responsibility to call the doctor who ordered your mammogram and get the results of your mammogram if you have not heard from your doctor within two weeks of your mammogram.

Where can you get a mammogram?

Call your local American Cancer Society office, or 1-800-ACS-2345 to locate an accredited facility. The ACS can also provide information on low-cost or free mammograms for women who do not have health insurance.

What if breast cancer is found?

Not all breast cancers or breast cancer patients are alike. Treatments for early breast cancer can include lumpectomy (limited surgery which removes the cancer but not the entire breast), followed by radiation therapy; or mastectomy (surgical removal of the breast). Additional treatment may include chemotherapy or hormone therapy. A woman with breast cancer should fully review her treatment options with her doctor before decisions are made on a treatment program.

What are the chances for survival from breast cancer?

Early detection of breast cancer gives a woman her best chance for survival. The five-year survival rate for breast is:

  • 94% if the cancer has not spread,
  • 73% if it has spread to nearby organs,
  • 18% if it has spread throughout the body.

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