Last week, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced she has breast cancer in a post on her official Twitter account saying, “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one”.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes. While we have made significant strides in breast cancer treatment options, the safest way to protect yourself from this deadly disease is through awareness and early detection. As we spend the month of October wearing pink ribbons and reflecting on those we’ve lost, and those who have persevered, take the time to familiarize yourself with the latest breast cancer screening guidelines. By following a regular routine of administering self-exams, and receiving recommended screenings from your OBGYN, you will put yourself in the best position to help us continue the fight against breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines
According to the American Cancer Society, the frequency with which women should obtain a breast cancer screenings from their OBGYN is dependent upon age. More specifically:
- Women ages 40 to 44 are recommended to receive a mammogram annually if desired.
- Women ages 45 to 54 are recommended to receive a mammogram annually.
- Women 55 and older are recommended to receive a mammogram every two years but may continue to receive annual screenings if desired.
In addition to mammography screenings, women should also perform routine self-breast exams. Regular self-examinations help women ensure they are familiar with their breasts so that if any abnormality develops, they can identify the change and make an appointment to be examined by a doctor.
Women with a personal, or a family history of breast cancer are recommended to receive more frequent screenings. If your mother, sister(s), or grandmother(s) have been diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your OBGYN. He/she will help you determine when to start receiving regular mammography screenings, and whether or not an MRI is also advisable to test for abnormalities.
Other Risk Factors
In addition to your family history, your doctor will need to have an understanding of other factors that could increase your risk of breast cancer and that may impact when you should begin receiving breast cancer screenings, and with what frequency. Such risk factors may include:
- Your age. A woman’s risk of a breast cancer diagnosis increases with age, particularly up until age 50.
- Childbearing history. The older a woman is when she has her first child, the greater her risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. Women who never have children are also at a greater risk of developing breast cancer.
- Menstruation history. Women are at a higher risk of breast cancer if they menstruated for the first time before age 12 or if they go through menopause after age 55.
- Genetic factors. Women with a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your personal risk of breast cancer, talk to your OBGYN. He or she will be able to discuss your personal risk factors and will help you to determine a routine screening frequency plan that is right for you.
Lumps in the breast or armpit area should always be treated as serious matters. Performing self-exams or having a clinical exam or mammogram performed in a timely manner can lead to early detection and treatment, which can greatly increase chances of survival.
However, lumps in the breast or armpit aren’t always dangerous. Some lumps can be cysts, which may feel like a lump but is actually a small sac filled with fluid. Cysts may appear singularly or in a cluster.
Is it a cyst or tumor?
To determine if a lump is a cyst or a tumor, a healthcare professional will perform an ultrasound. This scan will allow the professional to see if the sac is hollow or filled with fluid, determining if the patient needs any sort of treatment or if the issue will resolve itself on its own.
If the lump is fluid filled, it may not require any treatment, and may also swell and retract based on the hormone cycle of the patient and the patient’s menstrual cycle. If the cyst becomes bothersome, it can be drained by a professional by first applying local anesthetic and then removing the fluid with a needle and syringe. Some cysts will re-fill, requiring them to be removed surgically or simply left alone to recede on their own.
If there is a history of cancer within the family, cysts can act as a risk factor, indicating the possibility of cancer starting in the patient’s body. However, most cysts do not indicate cancer and are almost never associated with a high risk of cancer.
Types of tumors
Breast tumors can be identified as malignant, a mass of cancerous cells that can invade and damage surrounding tissue, or benign, a mass of cells usually unaggressive towards surrounding tissue that will not continue to grow.
A tumor is often biopsied to discover whether it is malignant or benign, or if it needs to be removed from the body before it affects any other areas. Metastatic cancer is when malignant tumors spread to other parts of the body through the lymph nodes, or lymphatic system, and form secondary tumors.
Tumors are classified by grade based on the severity of the cell mutation and the likelihood that it will spread throughout the body. Breast cancer is graded on a scale of one to three with one being the lowest stage of aggression and three being the highest.
Low-grade tumors, ranked at a one, most closely resemble normal tissue, whole high-grade tumors ranked at a three look the least like normal tissue and can be extremely aggressive.
Tumor grading can help best determine a treatment plan, however tumor grades should NOT be confused with stages of cancer.
For more information on stages of breast cancer, search our patient education section of our website or visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s page.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. However, a diagnosis is not the end – there is hope and there is help.
There are many resources available for people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, accessible via Internet, phone and some print publications.
Beyond the Shock, sponsored by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, is a free, online guide to understanding breast cancer and its treatment options. BtS can be used as a tool for those diagnosed with breast cancer, loved ones looking for more information or doctors seeking to share information and resources with patients and family members.
Beyond the shock offers educational videos, an open forum for asking questions about breast cancer and receiving answers, and stories from breast cancer survivors. It’s currently available in multiple languages (French, Spanish, Mandarin and Portuguese) and can also be downloaded as an app for smartphones and tablets.
Roswell Park Cancer Institute offers resources through the Western New York Breast Resource Center where team members aid patients and loved ones seeking information about breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and more. RPCI offers a lending library with print and video resources about current breast cancer information, screening techniques, prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
The center also offers services to help patients transition into “cancer survivorship,” as well as offering services to help during treatment.
WNYBRC programs include:
- Chemotherapy clinic tours
- Free wigs, scarves and hats for patients experiencing hair loss due to chemotherapy
- Look Good Feel Better makeover programs sponsored by the American Cancer Society
- Referrals to breast prosthesis and undergarment fitters
- Information and referrals to local support groups, financial assistance programs and transport services
- Information on other community support services
- Referrals to national breast cancer advocacy programs
For more information, hours and locations visit the WNYBRC website.
The Susan G. Komen foundation offers resources for people diagnosed with breast cancer, family members of patients and offers a place for survivors to tell their stories of struggle and recovery. The website offers information, support and a mission statement promising aid to whoever needs it, regardless of what stage they’ve reached with diagnosis, treatment or survival.
The SGK foundation also offers information about their fundraising events, financial assistance information and places to donate for research and recovery.
WebMD offers information on breast cancer symptoms, treatment, research and support. While providing some information, WebMD has also compiled a list of links and resources from other cancer-care networks such as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, National Breast Cancer Coalition, American Cancer Society and more.
The Breast Cancer Care Foundation also provides a comprehensive list of financial resources for families and patients dealing with cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment is a difficult journey, but with resources and support, things can be made easier. For more information about breast cancer research, diagnosis etc. visit our patient education section.
October is breast cancer awareness month. Throughout this month, Chouchani, Sayegh and Bagnarello MD will be posting articles about breast cancer prevention and what to do post diagnosis. This week we are focused on early detection.
Breast cancer is a disease that occurs when malignant (bad) cancer cells form in the tissue of the breast. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime and breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. While breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women, it can also occur in men with an estimated 2,150 men diagnosed per year.
However, according to the National Cancer Institute, when detected early in the “localized stage,” the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98%.
Early detection is easiest when you know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer while also performing regular self-exams.
Signs and symptoms to watch for:
- Nipple tenderness
- Thickening lump in the breast or underarm area
- Change in the skin around the breast or nipple, or enlargement of the skin’s pores
- Lump in the breast or a change in the shape or size of the breast
- Dimples anywhere on the breast
- Unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast (especially limited to one side)
- Nipple turned inward or inverted
- Red, swollen or scaly skin around the breast, nipple or areola
- Any clear or bloody nipple discharge
Most people experiencing signs and symptoms will only experience two or three and that does not mean they automatically have breast cancer. If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms, or feel any sort of unexplained lump in the breast or armpit area, contact your physician immediately.
Self-exams are extremely important especially concerning early detection. For further instruction on performing self-exams, see a previous article here, or you can find more information on the website for the National Breast Cancer Foundation here. Self-exams should be performed at home about once a month.
A clinical exam can be performed by a healthcare professional in-office during an appointment or during an annual exam or physical. Healthcare professionals will check the breast and armpit for lumps while also checking the skin for abnormal coloration, texture or discharge.
Mammograms are conducted by taking an x-ray of the breast tissue to examine the tissue for suspicious clusters, flecks, growths etc. Women over 40 should have a mammogram every one to two years, while women under 40 with risk factors should ask their healthcare professional what’s best.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation also offers an Early Detection Plan which is available for iPhone and Android on the App Store and on Google Play. The EDP reminds users to do monthly self-exams with notifications on their phones, tablets or computers and also aids in scheduling clinical breast exams and mammograms. For more information, visit their website here.
Reducing the risk of breast cancer can be as simple as maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy diet, and limiting alcohol and tobacco consumption. Early detection leads to the greatest possibility for efficient and successful treatment.
For more information on breast cancer, visit our patient education section here. And if you’d like to make an appointment with any of our doctors, please give us a call today. We are accepting new patients in all three of our offices in Western New York!