Breast cancer screening 101
Cancer screening is recommended for women without breast symptoms. Screening can often detect tumors before they spread, which increases the probability of successful treatment. The Affordable Care Act mandates mammograms at no cost.
- Have clinical breast exams — exams by a health professional — at least once every three years starting in your 20s and 30s.
- Become familiar with how your breasts normally feel so you can detect changes.
- Initiate yearly mammograms and clinical breast exams at the age of 40.
- Get a yearly MRI as well as mammogram if you are at very high risk for breast cancer.
- Establish a screening schedule with your doctor that accommodates your personal risk. Some people may start screening before the age of 40.
Source: American Cancer Society
Wendy Y. Chen, M.D., M.P.H.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
A breast lump in a woman is not always a sign of breast cancer. For example, benign cysts can come and go according to the menstrual cycles and these do not turn into cancer. However, any woman who has a breast lump that does not go away after a few days should contact her health care provider to evaluate it. In addition, men who notice a breast mass should contact their doctor as well.
2. Should women do regular breast self-examinations?
Currently, the professional guidelines including those from the American Cancer Society do not recommend that women do routine breast self-examinations, since two large randomized trials did not show a benefit. However, if a women notices a mass in her breast that does not go away, she should contact her health care provider for evaluation.
3. If a person has a mutation in a BRCA gene does that mean that he or she will get
The BRCA gene is not associated with 100 percent chance of getting breast cancer. Depending upon whether the mutation is in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, the lifetime risk of breast cancer for a woman ranges from 40-60 percent, according to different studies. The risk of male breast cancer is also elevated with both BRCA mutations, although the risk is higher with BRCA2 mutations. The lifetime risk of breast cancer for a male BRCA mutation carrier ranges from 1-6 percent.
4. Why is obesity correlated to the incidence of breast cancer?
Although there is a clear link between obesity and increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, the mechanism is not definitely known. One possible cause would be due to estrogen, since estrogen is mainly produced by the fat tissue in postmenopausal woman, and heavier postmenopausal women are known to have higher estrogen levels then thinner postmenopausal women. However, other mechanisms besides estrogen are probably involved as well.
5. What is the link between alcohol and breast cancer?
Regular alcohol consumption has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. However, low levels of consumption — three or fewer servings per week — have not been shown to be strongly related to breast cancer risk. There does not appear to be a difference by alcohol type (wine, beer or liquor) when it comes to breast cancer risk. In addition, it is long-term use that is associated with greater risk rather than short-term risk.
6. Does a father’s family history of breast cancer affect a person’s risk of breast cancer?
Yes, a father’s family history of breast cancer does affect a person’s risk of breast cancer since the BRCA1 and 2 genes can be passed to a woman or a man through either the mother or father.
7. Does breast size increase the likelihood of getting breast cancer?
Although a few studies have suggested that increased breast size may be associated with increased breast cancer risk, it is difficult to disentangle this from the effects of obesity. Heavier weight is associated with larger breast size.