Breast Cancer: The 5 W’s

With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now is the
time to get serious about this disease.Breast cancer is the most common
form of cancer among American women. In fact, about one in eight American women (12%) will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime. To help women better understand this important health issue, we’ve put together the Who, What, When, Where and Why about breast cancer and mammograms.

  1. Who is at Risk?

    Breast cancer does not discriminate. Women of every age and race, can have the disease. Men can also develop breast cancer, though they number less than one percent. Given that, there are certain risk factors that make it more likely for women to have breast cancer. It’s important to discuss these risk factors with your provider.

    Risk Factors You Can’t Control

    • Getting Older: 2 out of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older.

    • Family History: Having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer increases your risk. However, please remember that more than 85 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer did not have a family history of the disease.

    • Dense Breast Tissue: Women with dense breast tissue have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Women with extremely dense breast tissue have twice the risk.

Risk Factors You Can Control

    • Use of Alcohol: A recent study found that women who drink have an 11 percent greater risk of breast cancer than women who don’t.
    • Being Overweight or Obese: This increases the risk, especially after menopause.
  1. Why Have a Mammogram?

    A mammography exam remains the gold standard for detecting breast cancer, especially at an early stage. That’s the key to beating the disease. The 5-year survival rate for breast cancer diagnosed at an early stage—when the cancer cells have not spread—is 99%!

    Yet despite these remarkable and positive results, almost 35 percent of women ages 40 and older have not had a mammogram in the last two years.

  2.  When to Have a Mammogram

    The American Cancer Society has developed the following recommendations for scheduling a mammogram. These guidelines are for women with an average risk of breast cancer. If you have any of the risk factors (see WHO Is At Risk), you may need to schedule a mammogram at an earlier age and/or more often. Ask your provider.

    Age 40 to 44
    Women can choose to start screenings if they wish to.

    Age 45 to 54
    Women should get a mammogram every year.

    Age 55 and older
    Women can switch to a mammogram every two years or continue a yearly screening. Do this as long as you are in good health and expect to live 10 more years or longer.

  3. Where to Have a Mammogram
    At Hometown Hospital, we offer digital mammography. The benefits of this technology, which stores the image on a computer instead of on film, are many. Digital mammography is faster than a traditional X-ray mammography. Digital mammography is also more comfortable for the patient and uses less radiation. The radiologist is able see the images almost immediately, so they can make a quicker diagnosis. Digital mammography is also more accurate in detecting breast cancer in women who:

    • Are under age 50

    • Have dense breast tissue

    • Have not yet gone through menopause or have been in menopause for less than a year

      At Hometown Hospital, we also offer breast ultrasound and breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which are sometimes used to tell the difference between dense breast tissue or a non-cancerous lump and cancer.

  4. What to Expect

    A mammography exam uses low-dose X-rays to take images of the breast from two different angles. The entire exam only takes 20 to 30 minutes. During that time, each of your breasts will be compressed for about 20 or 30 seconds. This part of the exam can be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to produce a clear image of the breast.

    When your exam is complete, the images will be sent to a radiologist, who will review them. For many women, the radiologist may find something suspicious and recommend additional follow up steps. This is especially true for a woman’s first mammogram because the radiologist doesn’t have a previous exam to make a comparison. As a result, you may need to have another mammogram or a breast ultrasound. But don’t worry. Most of the time, these unusual findings are not cancer, but instead a cyst, an area of dense tissue or the result of an unclear image.

Tips on How to Prepare

  • Schedule your exam a week after your menstrual period, when your breasts are less tender.

  • Don’t wear deodorant, powder, ointment or lotion around the chest. These can interfere with the imaging.

  • Wear a two-piece outfit so you can easily remove the top. A gown will be provided during the exam.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, M.D. Anderson, CDC, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen, Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health, American Association of Clinical Chemistry