Breast Cancer

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Breast Cancer Information Every Woman Needs to Know

Each year, millions of women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the billions of dollars spent on research, and the countless hours researchers devote, we expect that someday, breast cancer will be a thing of the past. Until then, we are heartened to see that diagnoses are made earlier than ever, leading to extraordinary survival rates. Breast cancer treatments are improving every day. We know that a healthy lifestyle -- no smoking and eating low-fat foods -- can go a long way toward preventing breast cancer.

While there is never a good time to learn you have breast cancer, in many ways, there's never been a better time than today to treat it.

The American Cancer Society offers recommendations for early detection of breast cancer. The earlier the detection, the better the outcome:

  • Women 40 and older should have an annual screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.
  • Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional, at least every 3 years.
  • Breast self exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
  • Women should understand the benefits and limitations of BSE, and should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.
  • Women at high risk (greater than 20% lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.
  • Women at moderately increased risk (15% to 20% lifetime risk) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram.

Women at high risk include those who:

  • Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
  • Have a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, but have not had genetic testing themselves.
  • Have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 20% to 25% or greater, according to risk assessment tools based mainly on family history (click here to take the test).
  • Have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, or have first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes.

Women at moderately increased risk include those who:

  • Have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 15% to 20%, according to risk assessment tools that are based mainly on family history (click here to take the test).
  • Have a personal history of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), or atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH).
  • Have extremely dense breasts or unevenly dense breasts when viewed by mammograms.

Advances in Early Breast Cancer Detection

For most women diagnosed with breast cancer, being a woman was their only risk factor for getting the disease. That's why early detection is so important.

Enhanced genetic testing allows women with hereditary risks of breast cancer to assess their own predisposition.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is most helpful when used with mammography and a clinical breast exam to detect early-stage cancer in high-risk women.

Breast Cancer Blood Test is still in development, and could one day detect the breast cancer biomarkers long before tumors form. (Breast Reconstruction Guide Book - Kathy Steligo)

Impedance scanning is based on the theory that electrical current passes through cancerous tissue more easily than normal tissue. Today, 20 cancer centers are using the painless procedure to test for cancers. (Breast Reconstruction Guide Book - Steligo)

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans can detect cancers in women who do not have success with mammograms. Often this is a go-to diagnostic for women with breast implants, very dense tissue or lumps that can be felt but not seen in mammography. (Breast Reconstruction Guide Book - Steligo)

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