Health Guide 2020: Breast Cancer 101

January 28, 2021

The content below appears in A Guide to Caring For Yourself inside A Calendar to Live By 2021.

BREAST CANCER 101 content provided by Riverside Health System

What you need to know about prevention, screening and treatment

According to estimates from the American Cancer Society, nearly 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2020. Detecting cancers early is key to improving survival rates and improving quality of life, as masses found earlier will likely result in less aggressive treatment.

Statistics show that one in eight women and one in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. But death rates have been steadily declining since 1989.

According to Dr. Kara Friend, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon with Riverside Medical Group, it is important to understand risk and prevention, the importance of screening, and treatment options when it comes to breast cancer.

Managing Risk Factors

While family history is an important risk factor for developing breast cancer, Dr. Friend points out that most breast cancers are not familial. In fact, 85 percent of breast cancer diagnoses occur in women without a family history.

You can help reduce some breast cancer risk factors through a healthy diet, physical activity, moderating alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing body fat. Women who have breastfed for at least two months also reduce the risk for developing breast cancer.

In addition to family history, other risk factors that you cannot control include your age, race or ethnicity, the density of your breast tissue, whether you had children after the age of 35 or never had children, and when you started your period or went into menopause.

The Insider’s View on Screening

Warning signs of breast cancer can be identified through mammograms and physical exams. Mammograms screen the breast tissue for things like small calcium deposits that can indicate the presence of breast cancer. Physical exams can reveal a lump in the breast, change in skin color, areas where the skin puckers, changes in the appearance of the nipple or discharge from the nipple, all of which are possible signs of breast cancer.

“Screening is the most important thing we can do,” says Dr. Friend. “The 5-year survival rates for cancer that is detected early – in stage zero or one – is 95 percent.”

The higher the stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis, the lower the survival rates. Most stage zero cancers are detected by screening mammography rather than physical findings.

3D mammography, or breast tomosynthesis as it is technically known, involves an x-ray arm that sweeps in an arc over the breast taking multiple images at different angles. A computer then converts the images into a stack of thin layers, allowing the radiologist to review breast tissue one layer at a time. What that means for patients is a much clearer picture of their breast health which allows radiologists looking for abnormalities and tumors to more clearly identify an abnormality.

Dr. Friend recommends women begin annual mammograms at age 40 unless there is a family history on either side of the family. In those cases, Dr. Friend recommends screening mammography begin 10 years before the youngest family member was diagnosed. Patients at higher risk, as determined through discussion with their physicians, should also begin screening sooner as indicated by their situation.

Important Tools in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

Breast cancer can be treated in a number of ways, including surgery to remove the cancer - either through a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Radiation to treat the cancerous area, and therapies such as immunotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone-modulating therapy are other treatment options. Some forms of cancer may need a combination of these treatments, while others can be treated with just one.

To reiterate, detecting cancers early is key to improving survival rates and improving quality of life, as masses found earlier will likely result in less aggressive treatment. The most important thing you can do, according to Dr. Friend, is talk to your doctor and create a plan for managing your breast health that is based on your individual needs.

If you would like to learn more about breast cancer, including more about diagnosis, cancer types, and treatment options, you can visit:

The National Cancer Institute, cancer.gov
The Centers for Disease Control, cdc.gov
Breastcancer.org, breastcancer.org
Riverside Health System, riversideonline.com/breastcancer

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