PHILADELPHIA (October 2, 2017) – October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time to celebrate the more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors across the U.S. Fox Chase Cancer Center stresses the importance of getting regular screening tests for breast cancer, which is the most reliable way to find breast cancer early. “Breast cancer can be treated more successfully if detected in its early phases, while it is small and has not yet spread,” said Kathryn Evers, MD, director of mammography at Fox Chase. “With today’s state-of-the-art treatment options and less extensive surgery, patients are experiencing better outcomes.”
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. It is more common in white and African American women, compared to women of other races/ethnicities. The ACS estimates that about 40,610 women will die from breast cancer in 2017.
The main risk factors for breast cancer include being a woman, getting older (most breast cancers are diagnosed in women after age 50), and having changes in certain breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2). Other uncontrollable factors that may increase risk include personal/family history, race, breast density and menstrual period history.
Some risk factors are lifestyle-related. By controlling these, women might lower their risk for breast cancer. They include the use of birth control pills, hormone therapy after menopause, having children, drinking alcohol, being overweight or obese, and physical activity.
“Having one risk factor or even several doesn’t mean a woman will definitely develop breast cancer,” said Evers. “Women need to become educated about the risk factors, especially those they can control, and then adjust their lifestyle accordingly.”
Signs and Symptoms
Every woman should know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and immediately report anything unusual or worrisome to their physician. While different people will experience different signs or symptoms, others may experience none at all. “All women should know how their breasts look and feel so they can recognize any changes in them. This is an important part of breast health,” said Evers. “But just being familiar with your breasts should never take the place of regular screenings and mammograms. These tests can help find breast cancer in its early stages, even before symptoms appear.”
- Lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Swelling or thickening of all or part of the breast
- Dimpling or skin irritation of breast skin
- Localized, persistent breast pain
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or breast
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
Breast Cancer Screening
“We typically use three tests to detect breast cancer,” said Dr. Evers. “I advise women to speak with their physician to determine what is right for them.”
- A mammogram is an x-ray exam of the breast used to detect and evaluate breast changes. Its detection ability depends on tumor size and breast tissue density. Three-dimensional (3D) mammography is a type of digital mammography in which x-ray machines are used to take pictures of thin slices of the breast from different angles and computer software is used to reconstruct an image.
- Breast ultrasound is often used along with mammography for high-risk women and women with dense breast tissue.
- A breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be used to screen high-risk women and gather more information about a suspicious area found on a mammogram or an ultrasound.
The American Cancer Society recommends:
- Women at high risk for breast cancer based on certain factors should get a mammogram and an MRI every year.
- For women at average risk:
- Women ages 40 to 44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year.
- Women ages 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year.
- Women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year or choose to continue yearly mammograms. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
Fox Chase offers a Risk Assessment Program for individuals and families concerned about their risk for certain types of cancer. To learn more, visit FoxChase.org.