Freeman Medical Musings Blog

Breast Cancer Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by Wendy Chrisenbery, on March 20, 2015

What are the signs of breast cancer?
Because breast cancer can present in many ways, and every woman's breasts are different, I tell patients to look for anything new or changing in the breast. Common signs and symptoms are:

  • Mass or lump felt in the breast
  • Change in the color or texture of the skin on the breast
  • Dimpling anywhere on the breast
  • Changes in the nipple, for example, becoming inverted or developing a red scaly patches on the nipple or areola
  • Discharge from the nipple when not breast feeding

What should I do if I find a lump?
Most often, it is not breast cancer, but if you notice anything new or changing in your breast, let your healthcare provider know as soon as possible.

What steps can I take to help prevent breast cancer?
Although you cannot prevent cancer, you can take steps to reduce your risk:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stay physically active
  • Eat fruits and vegetables
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit alcohol consumption

Which exams detect breast cancer, and how often do I need each exam?
The gold standard for breast cancer screening is mammography. The American Cancer Society recommends women over age 40 have a mammogram every year. If you have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) with breast cancer, then you should start screening mammograms 10 years prior to the age she was diagnosed (but not before age 25).

Ultrasound is used to give more information on something found on mammogram. It can determine if an area is glandular tissue or a mass, if a mass is solid- or fluid-filled, and if there is blood flow to the mass.

Does a family history of breast cancer put a woman at a higher risk for breast cancer?
Having a family history of breast cancer can be a risk factor. If you've had one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk is doubled. If two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed, your risk is five times higher than average. If your brother or father has been diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk is higher, though researchers aren't sure how much higher. In some cases, a strong family history of breast cancer is linked to having an abnormal gene associated with a high risk of breast cancer, such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. A test can be performed to see if you carry the BRCA gene mutation. Please contact your healthcare provider or call me at 417.347.4512 if you would like more information on testing.

How does breast density affect breast cancer? How does it affect mammogram exams?
Dense breasts have less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue compared to breasts that aren't dense. Dense breasts have more gland tissue that makes and drains milk and supportive tissue that surrounds the gland. Breast density can be inherited, so if your mother has dense breasts, it's likely you will, too.

Research has shown that dense breasts can be six times more likely to develop cancer. It can be harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer in dense breasts – breast cancers (which look white like breast gland tissue) are easier to see on a mammogram when they're surrounded by fatty tissue (which looks dark on the mammogram).

Referenced from