Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in women.
Dr. Lynn Dyess, a breast and endocrine surgeon with USA Physicians Group and professor of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said mammograms can catch breast cancer early and pick up far more cancers than a clinical examination or a self-breast examination.
It is recommended that women get mammograms every year starting at age 40. “Data says that there is a 20 percent decrease in cancer mortality if you’re involved in a yearly screening program,” said Dr. Joel E. Lightner, director of breast imaging at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital. “The idea of breast cancer detection is to catch your cancer early so you have a better chance of survival.”
Dr. Lightner said it is ideal for women to perform a monthly breast self-examination in addition to getting an annual mammogram. “It is important to become familiar with the way your breasts normally look and feel,” he said. “Knowing what is normal for you may help you see or feel changes.”
Dr. Lightner said cancers can be found anywhere along the chest wall. “At the annual mammogram, we do two images of each breast – top to bottom and side to side,” he said. “We also put pressure on the breasts, which is uncomfortable but necessary to see cancers. If we see something abnormal, we tell the patient and get extra views with the mammography.”
Primary risks of breast cancer include family history, early menarche (starting menstrual cycles early in life), late menopause, having never been pregnant, or having your first full-term pregnancy after the age of 30.
It is important to know your risk of breast cancer by looking at your family history. Dr. Dyess said a significant family history is the family history of a first-degree relative, meaning a mother, sister or daughter. A second-degree relative would be your grandmother or aunt.
With this in mind, 80 percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history. “Just because you have a family history does not mean you are going to get breast cancer,” Dr. Dyess said. “Likewise, if you don’t have a family history, you can still get breast cancer.”
Some things everyone can do to help prevent breast cancer include limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking and exercising regularly.
Dr. Dyess said breast cancer does not have to be a death diagnosis. Available treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone blockers. “We tailor the treatments individually to the patient,” she said.
As a reminder, women who visit the Breast Care and Mammography Center at the USA Strada Patient Care Center for mammography screenings receive their test results before they leave. To learn more about mammography screenings at USA, click here.
To learn more about breast cancer, click here.
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