Get Answers to Your Breast Cancer Questions in Williamsport, PA
While a diagnosis of breast cancer may be frightening, understanding the disease can be helpful. In our frequently asked questions about breast cancer, you can find information on prevention, early detection, causes, symptoms and treatments.
Do I have to worry about getting breast cancer if I have no family history of breast cancer?
More than 85% of women with breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer. It is important for women with no family history to have good breast cancer screenings.
At what age should a woman begin getting mammograms?
It is recommended that most women begin getting mammograms at the age of 40, and continue yearly afterwards. Women should also have a thorough breast exam every year since mammograms are not 100% accurate in detecting breast cancer. It is also recommended that women practice breast self-examination and report any changes to their health care provider.
If I feel a lump in my breast, is it always cancer?
No, in fact eight out of 10 breast lumps are not cancer. Most are due to fibrocystic changes, a benign, non-cancerous condition commonly found in most women's breasts. If a woman detects any new lump in her breast, she should have it evaluated by her healthcare professional.
If my mammogram is normal can I assume that my breasts are free of cancer?
Mammography misses about 12 percent of cancers. This means that even though a mammogram is read as normal, about 12 cancers in 100 will not be detected on mammography. A thorough breast exam by an experienced healthcare provider can identify most of the "missed" cancers. This helps to ensure that the woman has no serious disease in her breast.
What causes breast cancer?
The cause of breast cancer is still unknown. However, we do know that there are several factors that increase a woman's risk for developing breast cancer. Being female and getting older are the two greatest risks for getting breast cancer. Having a family history especially in a first degree relative — a mother, daughter or sister — also raises a woman's risk. Additional risk factors for breast cancer are having no children, or waiting until after age 30 to have children, beginning menstruation at an early age, before 10 or 11 years of age, or not going through menopause until after age 55. Taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause and excessive alcohol consumption are also associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.
Does injury to the breast cause cancer?
No, injury is not associated with the development of breast cancer. Often a woman will injure her breast only to find a cancer shortly thereafter. The reality is that a cancer is more prone to bruising and bleeding.
Does having a needle biopsy of breast cancer cause it to spread?
No, inserting a needle into a cancerous lump does not "burst the bubble" and cause cancer to spread as many people think. There is no evidence that having a needle biopsy promotes the spread of cancer. The area surrounding the needle biopsy is completely removed during the cancer operation and this tissue is thoroughly examined to be sure that the margins are free of any cancer.
Is the radiation exposure during a mammogram harmful?
No. Having a mammogram is very safe and creates little risk to a woman. The amount of radiation obtained while getting a mammogram is very small and actually considerably less than the amount you get driving a car for 20 minutes or flying in an airplane.
Does breast cancer only run on the mother's side of the family?
Seven to 10 percent of breast cancers are caused by a genetic defect that can be inherited. This defect can be passed down from either the mother's or the father's side of the family. Therefore, it is very important to know the family history of any breast or ovarian cancer on both sides of a woman's family.
Is ultrasound just as sensitive as a mammogram?
Breast ultrasound can be very helpful when evaluating the breast; however, it is limited in its ability to find small, subtle changes throughout the breast. It is important to note that currently, nothing is more sensitive than mammography in finding early breast cancer. It has been estimated that mammography alone can decrease mortality rates from breast cancer 30 percent by finding cancers at their earliest stage.
Is pain a sign of breast cancer?
Pain is usually associated with benign, non-cancerous conditions of the breast and is rarely a sign of breast cancer. It has been estimated that pain is associated with breast cancer less than 10 percent of the time. Breast pain is usually caused by hormonal fluctuations that cause breast tissue to swell and become inflamed. It can also be caused by infection, trauma or even arthritis.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or thickening in the breast. This can be associated with other changes such as dimpling or puckering of the skin, inverted nipple, or bloody nipple discharge. It is important to note that any change in the breast that is persistent should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Do antiperspirants cause breast cancer?
No. Extensive studies have been done on the risk factors for developing breast cancer and there is no evidence that links antiperspirant use to breast cancer.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
The two most important risk factors for the development of breast cancer are being female and getting older. Breast cancer is primarily a disease found in women and is most common in women over the age of 50. However, breast cancer is also found in younger women and even in men. Other risk factors for breast cancer include family history, age at first menstruation, age of first childbearing and history of breast biopsy showing abnormal changes. Hormone use has also been associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.
Do hormones cause breast cancer?
Recent studies have shown that taking hormones, particularly the combination of estrogen and progesterone, is associated with an increased risk for the development of breast cancer. This risk seemed to be most prevalent after four to five years of hormone use. Currently, it is recommended that if hormone replacement is necessary, it should be used only to treat hormone-depletion symptoms associated with menopause and should be used for the shortest time possible.
If you have any breast cancer questions that you do not see above, email them to us and we will try to get back to you in a timely manner.
Located in Williamsport, PA, Cancer Center at UPMC Susquehanna provides complete breast cancer care, as well as answers to frequently asked questions about breast cancer.