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How To Find Breast Cancer Early

Early Detection Saves Lives

New technology helps detect early breast cancer

The chance of a woman up to age 85 developing breast cancer is one in eight.

Approximately 17,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Australia. When breast cancer is detected early, women have a much greater chance of being treated successfully and for most women the cancer will not come back after treatment.

Getting A Second Opinion

Getting a second opinion during your cancer care process is common. Its a good idea to get your second opinion before starting treatment, because a second opinion can alter your diagnosis and thus your treatment. However, you can get a second opinion at any point during treatment.

During your cancer care, consider asking for a second opinion in these instances:

  • after your pathology report is complete
  • before surgery
  • after your staging work is complete, if you are uncomfortable with the treatment plan your doctor recommends
  • while planning treatments following surgery
  • during treatment, if you believe there may be a reason to change the course of your treatment
  • after completing treatment, especially if you didnt ask for a second opinion prior to starting treatment

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At What Age Should I Start Getting Mammograms

Because young women typically have dense breast tissue, a mammogram is not always the best diagnostic tool for them. For this reason, and because dense breasts also make it more difficult to feel a lump, it is crucial that women aged 20 and older become familiar with their breasts and learn how to spot any unusual changes. Current guidelines call for annual screening mammograms to begin at age 45 or 50. If you have a family history of the disease, consult your doctor about when you should start having mammograms and how frequently you should have them. For more information, read our position paper on the new mammography guidelines.

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What Are The Common Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer

The following early signs and symptoms of breast cancer can happen with other conditions that are not cancer related.

  • New lump in the breast or underarm
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area of the breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
  • Pain in any area of the breast

Playing An Active Role

How To Detect Breast Cancer Early

You play an active role in making treatment decisions by understanding your breast cancer diagnosis, your treatment options and possible side effects.

Together, you and your health care provider can choose treatments that fit your values and lifestyle.

The National Academy of Sciences released the report, Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis in 2013. Susan G. Komen® was one of 13 organizations that sponsored this study.

The report identified key ways to improve quality of care:

  • Ensure cancer patients understand their diagnoses so they can make informed treatment decisions with their health care providers
  • Develop a trained and coordinated workforce of cancer professionals
  • Focus on evidence-based care

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Taking Breast Health Seriously At All Ages

Some women erroneously believe that they are too young to develop breast cancer. However, women can develop breast cancer at almost any age they have breast tissue. While it is more common in older women, it can happy at any age. Therefore, it is important to take breast exams and any changes in the breast seriously.

If you notice that your breasts dont look or feel normal, call your doctor right away and explain what feels or looks off about them.

Visit Your Doctor Regularly

Women should see their health provider once a year for an annual exam, which often includes a pap-smear, a routine pelvic exam, and a breast exam. Use this time to talk with your doctor about any health concerns, family history, and wellness options. If you notice any changes in your breasts, lumps, or other signs associated with breast cancer, you dont need to wait until your next annual exam. Make an appointment with your NWPC care provider as soon as you can.

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How Often Should I Get A Mammogram

In Nova Scotia, women between ages 40-49 are recommended to have annual screening mammography. Women in Nova Scotia, aged 50-69, are recommended to have screening mammography at two year intervals. Women 50-69 can also be recommended to return on an annual basis if they:

  • have a strong family history of breast cancer ,
  • are currently on HRT or
  • the radiologist has recommended returning sooner.

Women over the age of 70 are recommended to continue to have screening mammography if they are in good health.

In Prince Edward Island, women between ages 40-49 are recommended to have annual screening mammography. Women in PEI aged 50-75, are recommended to have screening mammography at two year intervals

In Prince Edward Island, a screening mammogram is recommended for women aged 40-75 who:

  • have never had breast cancer
  • do not have symptoms such as a breast lump, puckered skin, rash or nipple discharge
  • have not had a mammogram in the last 12 months
  • do not have breast implants or
  • have a parent or sibling with breast cancer.
  • Your health care provider may request a diagnostic mammogram if you find a change in your breast such as a lump or nipple discharge. In this case, the mammography department will contact you to schedule an appointment.

Know When To Get A Mammogram

Finding Breast Cancer Early

Mammograms are crucial to detecting breast cancer early. A low-level x-ray, these non-invasive tests can detect cancer three years before you feel a mass. When and how often you should receive a mammogram depends on your age and medical history. According to the U.S. Preventative Task Force, their recommended guidelines for breast cancer screening using traditional mammography are:

  • Women between the ages of 40 and 49 may choose to begin their biennial mammogram schedule, especially if there is a family history of breast cancer.
  • Women ages 50-74 should get a mammogram every two years.
  • Women 75 and older may choose to continue receiving mammograms, although the net benefits of screenings past this age are unknown.

Talk with your health care provider to determine your breast cancer risk factors to develop the best screening plan for you.

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Benefits And Risks Of Screenings

When and how often to have a breast screening test is a choice you must make. Different expert groups do not fully agree on the best timing for screening.

Before having a mammogram, talk to your provider about the pros and cons. Ask about:

  • Your risk for breast cancer.
  • Whether screening decreases your chance of dying from breast cancer.
  • Whether there is any harm from breast cancer screening, such as side effects from testing or overtreatment of cancer when it’s discovered.

Risks of screenings can include:

  • False-positive results. This occurs when a test shows cancer when there is none. This can lead to having more tests that also have risks. It can also cause anxiety. You may be more likely to have a false-positive result if you are younger, have a family history of breast cancer, have had breast biopsies in the past, or take hormones.
  • False-negative results. These are tests that come back normal even though there is cancer. Women who have false-negative results do not know they have breast cancer and delay treatment.
  • Exposure to radiation is a risk factor for breast cancer. Mammograms expose your breasts to radiation.
  • Overtreatment. Mammograms and MRIs may find slow-growing cancers. These are cancers that may not shorten your life. At this time, it is not possible to know which cancers will grow and spread, so when cancer is found it is usually treated. Treatment can cause serious side effects.

Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy And Neoadjuvant Her2

With neoadjuvant chemotherapy, all the chemotherapy to treat the breast cancer is usually given before surgery . If the tumor doesnt get smaller with the first combination of chemotherapy drugs, other combinations can be tried.

If your tumor is HER2-positive, you may get neoadjuvant trastuzumab and neoadjuvant pertuzumab , but not at the same time as the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin .

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What Are The Causes Of Breast Cancer

The exact cause of breast cancer has not been determined. Researchers have found that several factors can increase the risk of breast cancer. It could either be a single risk factor or a combination of risk factors that cause breast cancer. Some common risk factors that have been identified to cause breast cancer are as follows

  • Genetic factors: A family history of breast cancer increases the risk of the disease. Breast cancers may occur due to the inheritance of mutated genes. The most commonly affected genes causing breast cancer are BRAC1 and BRAC2. They also increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Age: The risk of breast cancer increases with age. Most women with breast cancer are over the age of 50.
  • Radiation exposure: This could be due to occupational exposure, imaging or radiotherapy for other conditions to the chest during childhood.
  • Early menarche: This is the onset of periods before the age of 12.
  • Late onset of menopause after the age of 55.
  • Late first pregnancy after the age of 30 or never being pregnant.
  • Hormone replacement therapy: Hormonal therapy to reduce the side effects of menopause or for other reasons increases breast cancer risk.

Perlmutter Cancer Center, Section for Global Health, Division of Health and Behavior, Department of Population Health, New York University Langone Health, New York, New York

Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Some Risk Factors For Breast Cancer

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The following are some of the known risk factors for breast cancer. However, most cases of breast cancer cannot be linked to a specific cause. Talk to your doctor about your specific risk.

Age. The chance of getting breast cancer increases with age. Nearly 80 percent of breast cancers are found in those over the age of 50.

Personal history of breast cancer. An individual who has had breast cancer in one breast is at an increased risk of developing cancer in the other breast.

Family history of breast cancer. A higher risk of breast cancer is associated with having an immediate relative with breast cancer, especially at a young age . Having other relatives with breast cancer may also raise the risk.

Genetic factors. Certain genetic mutations, including changes to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, are associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer at some point. Other gene changes may raise breast cancer risk as well. For more information, ask your doctor about comprehensive biomarker testing, which may include genetic testing for inherited cancer risk.

Childbearing and menstrual history. Research suggests a link between reproductive and menstrual history and the risk of breast cancer. Higher risk factors include:

  • Early onset menstruation
  • Late onset menopause
  • Never having children, childbirth later in life or not breastfeeding

Hormone use. Menopausal hormone therapy and certain types of birth control may have hormones that are risk factors for breast cancer.

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What Are The Breast Cancer Symptoms I Need To Look Out For

People of all ages should be familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts. If you notice any of the following changes please see your doctor immediately:

  • a lump, lumpiness or thickening of the breast
  • changes in the skin of a breast, such as puckering, dimpling or a rash
  • persistent or unusual breast pain
  • a change in the shape or size of a breast
  • discharge from a nipple, a nipple rash or a change in its shape.

If You Have A Gene Mutation

If you have had tests that showed a change in a gene that increases the risk of breast cancer, the recommendations are slightly different.

UK guidelines recommend yearly MRI scans from:

  • age 20 for women with a TP53 mutation
  • age 30 for women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation

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Are Women Under 40 At Risk For Breast Cancer

Younger women generally do not consider themselves to be at risk for breast cancer. However, breast cancer can strike at any age: 5% of breast cancer cases occur in women under 40 years of age. All women should be aware of their personal risk factors for breast cancer.

There are several factors that put a woman at higher risk for developing breast cancer, including:

  • A personal history of breast cancer or a high risk lesion found by biopsy
  • A family history of breast cancer, particularly at an early age
  • A family history that is concerning for a genetic syndrome that may put them at a higher risk for breast cancer
  • History of radiation therapy to the chest
  • A known genetic mutation conferring a high risk for the development of breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry

What Are The Risks Of Chemotherapy

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Different chemotherapy medicines tend to cause different side effects. Many women do not have problems with these side effects, while other women are bothered a lot. There are other medicines you can take to treat the side effects of chemo.

Talk to your doctor about the type of chemotherapy medicine that he or she is planning to give you. Ask about any side effects that the chemo may cause.

Short-term side effects can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Hair thinning or hair loss.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Increased chance of bruising, bleeding, and infection.
  • Memory and concentration problems.

Long-term side effects of chemotherapy can include:

  • Early menopause, which means not being able to have children anymore. It also can include symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and thinning bones .
  • Concentration problems that may last for many months after your treatments are finished.
  • In rare cases, heart damage and a higher risk of other types of cancers, such as leukemia.

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Importance Of Early Detection

Prompt detection of breast cancer is important to find breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage. This may be before the person has any noticeable symptoms, so regular screening may be the most important tool for this early detection.

One notes that breast cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer among women worldwide. Screening can help reduce this risk.

Research from 2016 notes that standard procedures for breast cancer screening can lead to a roughly in deaths from breast cancer.

The also notes that increasing screening practices for eligible people could:

  • increase life expectancy

How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed

Magnetic resonance imaging may be used to diagnose breast cancer.

Doctors often use additional tests to find or diagnose breast cancer. They may refer women to a breast specialist or a surgeon. This does not mean that she has cancer or that she needs surgery. These doctors are experts in diagnosing breast problems.

  • Breast ultrasound. A machine that uses sound waves to make detailed pictures, called sonograms, of areas inside the breast.
  • Diagnostic mammogram. If you have a problem in your breast, such as lumps, or if an area of the breast looks abnormal on a screening mammogram, doctors may have you get a diagnostic mammogram. This is a more detailed X-ray of the breast.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging . A kind of body scan that uses a magnet linked to a computer. The MRI scan will make detailed pictures of areas inside the breast.
  • Biopsy. This is a test that removes tissue or fluid from the breast to be looked at under a microscope and do more testing. There are different kinds of biopsies .

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What Is A Mammogram

A mammogram is the most effective way to find breast cancer early, often before the lump is even large enough to feel. A mammogram is a special kind of X-ray of your breasts. The amount of radiation used in the X-ray is very small and not harmful.

Mammograms detect cancer because cancer is more dense than the normal part of the breast. A radiologist will look at the X-rays for signs of cancer or other breast problems.

Are You Eligible For Free Or Low

How To Detect Breast Cancer Early

You may be eligible for free or low-cost screenings if you meet these qualifications

  • You have no insurance, or your insurance does not cover screening exams.
  • Your yearly income is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level.external icon
  • You are between 40 and 64 years of age for breast cancer screening.
  • You are between 21 and 64 years of age for cervical cancer screening.
  • Certain women who are younger or older may qualify for screening services.

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‘it Felt Like There Was A Marble In My Breast’

I had fibrous breasts, so even on a good day, my breasts felt like a bag of frozen peas. I had been receiving Bright Pinks Breast Health reminder texts to check my breasts, so I was pretty familiar with how my breasts felt. However one day I felt a lump in my left breast near my nipple, which seemed to be the size of a marble or gumball. This lump felt different. It was hard, but had a bit of a give to it.

“From the moment I felt the lump, I knew I had breast cancer. I went in that day for an appointment with my gynecologist, who ordered a mammogram for later that afternoon. After that, I had a core needle biopsy, but the tests all came back negative. I never felt relieved or satisfied with that result.

“At a later breast check, I felt the lump had grown, so I insisted my gynecologist help me find a surgeon to remove the lump. It was removed and I was told it was stage 2, aggressive triple negative breast cancer. I also discovered I was BRCA-1 positive, meaning I had the breast cancer gene. I cant stress it enough, listen to your body!

Erin Scheithe, DC Education Ambassador for Bright Pink, Washington, D.C.


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