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Frequently Asked Questions about Breast Cancer

1. What are the basic breast health steps?

Answer: The Susan G. Komen for the Cure recommends the following screening guidelines:

  • Monthly breast self-examination beginning by age 20
  • Clinical breast examinations at least every three years beginning at age 20 and annually after age 40
  • Annual screening mammography beginning at age 40
  • Women under age 40 with a family history of breast cancer and other concerns about their personal risk should consult a trained medical professional about risk assessment and when to begin with a screening mammography — a service of CMC Breast Center. New recommendations from the American Cancer Society suggest shorter intervals and additional screening tools e.g. ultrasound may be appropriate in some high risk women.

2. What is breast cancer?

Answer: Breast cancer is a type of cancer where cells in the breast tissue divide and grow without the usual controls on cell death and cell division.

3. What are the signs of breast cancer?

Answer: The most common signs of breast cancer are a lump in the breast, an abnormal thickening of the breast or a change in the shape or color of the breast. Finding a lump or change in your breast does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor right away.

  • Any new, hard lump or thickening in any part of the breast
  • Change in breast size or shape
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin.
  • Swelling, redness or warmth that does not go away
  • Pain in one spot that does not vary with your monthly cycle
  • Pulling in of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly and appears only in one breast
  • An itchy, sore, or scaling area on one nipple You may or may not have pain with these breast changes.

4. What is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and does it increase my risk for breast cancer?

Answer: During menopause, a woman’s body significantly reduces the production of estrogen. This decrease in estrogen may cause hot flashes, bone loss, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. To lessen the side effects, doctors may prescribe HRT. Recent use of combination hormone replacement therapy has been shown to increase breast cancer risk, with higher risk associated with longer use.

5. What is a screening mammogram?

Answer: A screening mammogram is recommended beginning at age 40 once a year. A Screening Mammogram is done only when you are having no problems. If you have a problem, a screening mammogram is not adequate to determine if it is serious or not. A new lump, nipple discharge, discoloration, focal pain that has not been studied before, or a lump that is changing are some reasons why a diagnostic mammogram should be done instead of a screening. Most insurance companies will pay for a screening mammogram.

6. What is a diagnostic mammogram?

Answer: A diagnostic mammogram is done when there is some type of problem. It will involve an advanced mammogram and possibly an ultrasound. The radiologist views the images while you are at the clinic and will inform you of the findings before you leave. To make a diagnostic exam appointment, you must first consult your doctor about the problem as he/she may want to examine you before any images are taken. You must have a doctor’s order for a diagnostic mammogram. Another reason for a diagnostic mammogram is if the radiologist finds something different in your screening mammogram or decides to “follow” a finding over several months. For this you do not need an order from your physician. Most insurance companies cover the cost of a diagnostic exam, but you may have to pay toward the deductible before insurance will pay.

7. What is digital mammography? How is it different from conventional mammography?

Answer: Digital mammography captures the x-ray images on a digital detection rather than on x-ray film, as with conventional mammography. In January 2000, the FDA approved a digital mammography system that may offer potential advantages over the use of standard x-ray film. Studies comparing digital and conventional mammography are ongoing. CMC Breast Center personally feel that digital mammography is superior in the dense or busy breast or in patients with implants or previous breast surgery. The procedure for having a mammogram with a digital system is the same for the patient as with conventional mammography.

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