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Digital mammography can detect early-stage breast cancer
If you're a woman consider the many reasons why you should have a mammogram every year.
Concerned about breast cancer?
Read more to determine your risk.
In the fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea," the heroine cannot sleep because she can feel a very small lump, even though it's covered by dozens of mattresses.
In real life, we are not that lucky. By the time we can feel a lump in our own breasts, a cancerous tumor could possibly have grown larger and spread beyond the breast into other areas of our bodies. But with regular mammograms, doctors can detect small tumors at a much earlier stage – years before we can feel them – which significantly increases the opportunity for successful treatment.
Throughout the year and especially during October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, our hospital wants to make sure women know how important it is to have regular mammograms or x-rays of the breasts.
Doctors know that screenings for breast cancer save thousands of lives each year, and that many more lives could be saved if even more women took advantage of these tests.
While progress has been made across the board, including less invasive surgeries, genetic testing and more advanced diagnostic technology, an estimated 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer this year.
That means breast cancer is still one of the top killers of women in the United States, more than accidents, pneumonia or the flu. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S., other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.
That's the bad news. But there's good news as well. Right now there are about two and a half million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Breast cancer death rates are going down. This is the result of advances in treatment and more women having mammograms which can find the cancer during its earliest, most curable stages.
The chance of a woman having breast cancer some time during her life is about 1 in 8 while the chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35. About 182,460 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
Lowering the Risk
Unlike colorectal cancer, which can be prevented via the removal of polyps during a colonoscopy, there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But there are steps women can take that might reduce their risk of breast cancer, or at least help them find it in its earliest, most curable stages. These steps include:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Regular exercise
- Limit alcohol use
- Have an annual mammogram
- Women who breast-feed their children for several months or do not use post-menopausal hormone therapy (PHT) may also reduce their breast cancer risk.
- Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer save thousands of lives each year, and that many more lives could be saved if even more women and their health care providers took advantage of these tests.
Other Breast Cancer Facts
- The average patient's age with a new breast cancer diagnosis is 62. Living longer increases one's risk. Risk rises after age 40, which is why annual mammograms are recommended by the American Cancer Society for women over the age of 40.
- American Caucasian women develop breast cancer more often than African American, Native American, or Asian women.
- Women who have had breast cancer on one side face an increased risk of getting cancer in the other breast. This is particularly true when breast cancer genetic risk is inherited.
- One's risk increases if there is a strong family history of breast cancer. This is true if there are relatives on either the maternal or paternal sides who have been affected. Risk is higher if there are multiple relatives who have had breast cancer, if the relatives are "first-degree" relatives - mother, sister, daughter, and if the relatives were diagnosed at a pre-menopausal age.
- Studies suggest that the longer a woman is exposed to estrogen, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer. This includes estrogen made by the body, taken as a drug, or delivered by a patch. Also at increased risk are women who began their periods before age 12, never had children, took hormone replacement therapy for long periods of time, or experienced menopause after age 55.
- Women who have their first child after age 30 have a greater risk.
- Five to ten percent of women who develop breast cancer are born with a mutation in breast-cancer-susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Families with inherited susceptibility to breast cancer generally have multiple generations affected, a higher incidence of ovarian and other gynecologic cancers, male breast cancer, or onset of cancer in young individuals. Genetic testing and counseling can be done in affected or unaffected family members if warranted. Certain genes routinely keep breast cells from dividing and growing out of control and forming tumors. When these genes become altered, changes occur and a cell no longer can grow correctly. Genetic changes may be inherited from either parent.
How to prepare for the day of your exam
- Bring prior mammogram images: If you are changing facilities, make sure you bring any previous mammogram results with you from your old facility to the new one. This is so the radiologist can compare your old results with the new images to look for any changes.
- Don’t use deodorant: You should avoid using any deodorants, antiperspirants, powders, lotions, creams, and perfumes under your arms or around your breasts since they contain metallic particles that could be visible on the mammogram and confuse your results.
- When you arrive at the mammogram testing facility, you will likely be asked to remove all of your jewelry and clothing from the waist up and then will be given a gown to put on. During the procedure, you will stand in front of an X-ray machine that is specifically designed for mammography. The mammographer will place one of your breasts on a platform that will raise or lower to match your height. You will have to position your head, arms, and torso to allow the best unobstructed view of your breast. Then, your breast will gradually be pressed against the platform by a clear plastic plate in order to spread out the breast tissue and allow the X-rays to penetrate through the breast tissue. You will be asked to stand still and hold your breath during this time. The pressure being applied should not hurt you, but it may be uncomfortable. This compression is necessary to provide the best image for the radiologist. The procedure will then be repeated for the other breast. The entire procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes. You can usually expect to receive your results within a few days.
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