Cancer diagnoses are scary. And while the SNCC team is here to educate, treat you and comfort you, you may benefit from the support of others going though breast cancer. SNCC has complied a list of area support groups which may provide you with additional resources, insight and support. Never hesitate to contact Dr. Perez and our team, but please use the other resources we provide on the website to help manage your care.
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. Because breasts are surrounded by lymph nodes, breast cancer cells can readily enter the lymph nodes and spread to other parts of the body, or metastasize, making early detection key to survival.
The majoirty of lumps found in breasts turn out to be benign. They can be fatty deposits, cysts or fibroadenomas.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. When a lump or any of these possible symptoms are detected, a healthcare professional should be consulted to determine the nature of the symptom.
- Lump in the breast
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
- Swelling in lymph nodes under arms or around the collar bone
Annual mammogram screenings for older women has proven a very successful way to identify breast cancer early. Breast cancers that are found because they can be felt tend to be larger and are more likely to have already spread beyond the breast. In contrast, breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be small and still confined to the breast. The size of a breast cancer and how far it has spread are important factors in predicting the prognosis for a woman with this disease.
NEW American Cancer Society recommendations for breast cancer detection.
- Women aged 40 to 44 should have the choices to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms. (x-rays of the breast) if they wish
- Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55+ should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
- All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening. They also should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away.
UNCONTROLLABLE RISK FACTORS
- Gender - Being a woman makes you 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than being a man.
- Age - Risk increases as you get older.
- Family history - Having a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman's risk. Having two relatives increases her risk about three-fold.
- Personal history - A woman with cancer in one breast has a greater chance of getting another breast cancer
- Race - White women are slightly more likely to get breast cancer than African-Americamn women.
- Dense breast tissue - Women with dense breasts have a higher risk.
- Certain benign breast problems - Women with benign lumps may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Onset of menstruation - Women who started menstruating early (before age 12) and/or went through menopause later (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
- Breast radiation early in life - Women who have had radiation treatment to the chest area (as treatment for another cancer) as a child or young adult have a greatly increased risk of breast cancer.
- Treatment with DES - Women who were given the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy have a slightly increased risk of getting breast cancer.
- Genetic defect - 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary. 45-65% of those who inherit a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop breast cancer.
- Having children - Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk.
- Birth Control - Studies have found that women using birth control pills have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them. This risk seems to go back to normal over time once the pills are stopped. Women currently using Depo-Provera seem to have an increase in risk, but the risk doesn't seem to be increased if this drug was used more than 5 years ago.
- Hormone therapy after menopause - Using combined hormone therapy after menopause increases the risk of getting breast cancer. It may also increase the chances of dying from breast cancer. This increase in risk can be seen with as little as 2 years of use. Combined HT also increases the likelihood that the cancer may be found at a more advanced stage (and is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, blood clots, and strokes). The use of these bioidentical hormones should be assumed to have the same health risks as any other type of hormone therapy. The use of estrogen alone after menopause does not appear to increase the risk of developing breast cancer (although it is linked to stroke, blood clots and ovarian cancer).
- Breastfeeding - Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk, especially if it is continued for 1½ to 2 years.
- Drinking alcohol - The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer with the risk increasing with the amount of alcohol consumed.
- Being overweight/obese - Being overweight after menopause increases breast cancer risk.
- Physical activity - Evidence is growing that physical activity in the form of exercise reduces breast cancer risk.
How much do we need to exercise to lower breast cancer risk? A study from the Women's Health Initiative indicated that as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman's risk by 18%. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR BREAST CANCER?
A new report from the American Cancer Society gives us cause to hope the tide is turning in the battle with breast cancer. The report finds that death rates from breast cancer in the United States have dropped 34% since 1990. Some attribute the decrease to the decline in use of hormone therapy after menopause, as well as increased awareness and earlier detection.
Dr. Perez attends cancer conferences and reads the research literature in order to stay abreast of new developments in cancer research, treatment and prevention.