Breast cancer is the leading cause of malignancy-related death in US women, with a 1 out of 8 chance of being diagnosed during one’s lifetime. Because of its widespread prevalence, women and their loved ones should be well acquainted with its risks, symptoms and current screening recommendations (see further reading in our article Current Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines).
- Risks: Women who have a family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancer (ie: BRCA-1/2 genetic mutation), especially if diagnosed younger than 50 years of age, have an especially high chance of developing breast cancer. Those who had radiation therapy to the chest, such as for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are also at increased risk. Older age, obesity, alcohol use, physical inactivity, Caucasian race, dense breast tissue, those who started menses before the age of 12 and/or entered menopause after 55, those who had their first pregnancy after the age of 30 or were never pregnant and those who took combined hormone replacement for menopausal symptoms for longer than 5 years also have a higher chance of developing breast cancer.
- Symptoms: Any breast lump, enlarged or tender mass in the armpit, change in shape or size of a breast/nipple or change in the skin texture such as dimpling, scaling or puckering needs prompt medical evaluation. Also concerning is any nipple discharge (especially bloody) or if the breast/nipple tissue has become warm, red and/or swollen.
- Screening recommendations: Mammography has been proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer death. The controversy centers around how often to perform this screening test and in what age group. For the average risk woman, the American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening starting at age 45, with those 55 and older getting studied every 2 years. This is continued until an elderly woman’s life expectancy from all causes of death is less than 10 years. On the other hand, the US Preventative Task Force recommends starting mammography at age 50, and continuing every 2 years until age 75. Patient self-exams and clinician-directed breast exams are no longer recommended, as they have not been shown to decrease mortality from breast cancer. As with any recommendation, each woman’s situation is unique, and care needs to be individualized.
A woman can successfully decrease her incidence and death from breast cancer by knowing and modifying any known risk factors, by being aware of the warning signs and by partnering with her health care provider in scheduling routine mammogram screening.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact our office by phone at 208-772-5204, or leave a comment below. If you found this information helpful, click here to subscribe to our monthly newsletter!