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Breast Cancer: Risks, Symptoms & Early Detection

  • Category: Cancer Care
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Jennifer Cunningham, MD - Valley Health Shenandoah Memorial Hospital Family Medicine | Mt Jackson
Breast Cancer: Risks, Symptoms & Early Detection

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. There are different kinds of breast cancer. The kind of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer.

What are common risk factors?

  • Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
  • Reproductive history. Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Automated Breast Ultrasound Screening (ABUS) is available at Winchester Medical Center. Mammography alone is less sensitive in those with dense tissue, and some women benefit from an ABUS screening in addition to their yearly mammogram.
  • Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Family history of breast cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk. This does not mean that you do not have to have a annual mammogram because you have no history of breast cancer. More than 75% of women with breast cancer have no family history, and only 5-10% of breast cancer patients have the genetic form of breast cancer.
  • Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (like for treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
  • Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.

What are common symptoms?

  • A new lump or mass in the breast or underarm.
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast. These might include thickening, swelling, distortion, tenderness, skin irritation, redness, scaliness and nipple abnormalities.
  • Pain in any area of the breast.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood).

Source: (Corrine Ellsworth Beaumont, PhD - founder of the nonprofit "Worldwide Breast Cancer")

How do I get screened?

  • Monthly self-exams.
  • For women of average risk of breast cancer, recently updated American Cancer Society screening guidelines recommend:
  • Those 40 to 44 years of age have the option to begin annual mammography, those ages 45 to 54 should have annual mammography, and those 55 years of age and older may transition to mammography every two years or continue annual mammography.
  • For some women at high risk of breast cancer, annual breast MRI is recommended in addition to mammography, typically starting at age 30.

Screening Opportunities at Valley Health

  1. Mammograms
    • The most advanced mammogram technology is available at all six Valley Health Hospital Imaging locations. To schedule a mammogram, please call 855-724-3384.
  2. 3D Mammograms
    • Any woman can benefit from the additional detail from 3D imaging but most especially women with dense breast tissue or risk factors, like a family history of breast cancer. The added value of a 3D mammogram is that it reduces or removes overlapping tissue, particularly in a woman with dense breast tissue on mammogram. To schedule your 3D mammogram, please call 855-724-3384.
  3. Automated Breast Ultrasound Screenings (ABUS)
    • A physician referral for this screening is required, so talk to your doctor about the benefits of Automated Breast Ultrasound. ABUS is available at the Outpatient Diagnostic Center located on the campus of Winchester Medical Center. To make an appointment, please call 855-724-3384

Facts about Breast Cancer:

  • Each year in the United States, more than 240,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die from the disease.
  • Men also get breast cancer, but it is not very common. Less than 1% of breast cancers occur in men.
  • Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older, but breast cancer also affects younger women. About 10% of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
  • Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, with about one in eight women developing the disease in her lifetime. Thanks to improvements in early detection, the female breast cancer death rate declined by 38% from its peak in 1989 to 2014, but breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

Early detection saves lives. Please talk with your doctor or healthcare provider about your personal breast cancer risk and prevention strategy including regular breast exams and mammograms. Remember to report any breast lump or change to your doctor. If it’s time for your regular mammogram, schedule it today!