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Breast cancer FAQs

1. How many women are affected by breast cancer?

The American Cancer Society estimates that 182,460 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the United States in 2008, and approximately 40,480 women will die of the disease. An additional 67,770 women will be diagnosed with in situ (noninvasive) breast cancer.

2. Is breast cancer the most common cancer among women?

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed non-skin cancer among women.

3. Can men get breast cancer?

Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does occur. An estimated 1,990 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, and approximately 450 will die of the disease. Men account for less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases.

4. Who is most at risk for developing breast cancer?

Several factors contribute to the risk of developing breast cancer. Aside from being female, age is the main risk factor. As age increases, so does the risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, more than three out of four women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are 50 or older. Family history and genetics also contribute. Postmenopausal obesity and weight gain are risk factors, as are having a personal history of breast cancer, certain types of benign breast disease and several hormone-related factors.

5. What effect does a family history of breast cancer have on a woman's risk of getting the disease?

Women with a strong family history of early breast cancer -- two or more close relatives diagnosed before age 50 -- are at increased risk of developing the disease. However, the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no close relatives (mother, sister or daughter) with the disease, and most women with a family history will not develop breast cancer.

6. Why is early detection important?

Numerous studies have shown that early detection saves lives and increases treatment options. The five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent among individuals whose cancer has not spread beyond the breast at time of diagnosis.

7. What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray procedure that enables doctors to see the internal structure of the breast and possibly detect breast cancers that cannot be felt. These smaller tumors are more likely to be confined to the breast, meaning treatment is more likely to be successful.

8. When should women have mammograms?

Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health. Women with serious health problems or short life expectancy should discuss ongoing early detection testing with their health care providers. The American Cancer Society's current breast cancer screening guidelines are as follows:

• Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.

• A clinical breast exam should be part of a periodic health exam, about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women age 40 and older.

• Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care providers. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.

The American Cancer Society recommends that some women - those at increased risk for breast cancer because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors - be screened with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is less than 2 percent of all the women in the United States.) Women who think they are in this category should talk with their doctor about their history and whether they should have an MRI. They may also call the American Cancer Society for more information about screening.

9. Does mammography detect all breast cancers?

While mammograms detect the majority of breast cancers, they are not perfect and fail to detect about 10 to 20 percent of breast cancers.

10. Is mammography the only technology currently used to screen for breast cancer?

Mammography is the standard tool for early detection. Other imaging techniques, however, are under investigation. These include MRI, positron emission tomography (PET), and ultrasound. Some of the techniques are currently used to follow up on suspicious findings from a physical exam or mammogram or along with mammography in women with increased risk for breast cancer.

11. What should women do other than get mammograms?

In addition to finding breast cancer early through mammography, women can actually reduce breast cancer risk by making healthy lifestyle choices. Many studies indicate that being overweight increases the risk of breast cancer among post-menopausal women, so all women should strive to maintain a healthy weight. In addition, moderate to vigorous physical activity has been shown to decrease breast cancer risk among both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women. Weight control and regular physical activity are also very important for breast cancer survivors. There is convincing data that obesity is associated with breast cancer recurrence, and data from a large study of breast cancer survivors showed that higher levels of post-treatment physical activity were associated with a 26 percent to 40 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer recurrence, breast cancer-specific mortality, and all-cause mortality. Healthy lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and limiting alcohol intake are critical components of breast health.

12. Are breast cancer screenings covered by insurance?

Medicare provides coverage for yearly screening-mammography for female beneficiaries age 40 and older. Unlike other Medicare benefits, the deductible is waived for mammography. For a diagnostic mammogram, the patient pays the deductible, in addition to the copayment. Additionally, most states ensure that private insurance companies, Medicaid and public employee health plans provide coverage and reimbursement for the early detection of breast cancer.

13. When should women perform breast self-examinations? What if they detect a lump?

Women should always be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel. If a woman chooses to do breast self-examinations, she should do it regularly, preferably monthly. While research does not show that doing breast self-examination reduces breast cancer deaths, the exam may provide self-awareness and heightened sensitivity to important breast changes. If a lump is detected, a woman should see her health care provider as soon as possible for an evaluation.

14. What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?

Breast cancer can be detected by the appearance of irregular images on mammograms. Other signs include persistent breast changes, such as a lump, thickening, swelling, dimpling, skin irritation, distortion, retraction, scaliness, ulceration, pain and tenderness of the nipple, or spontaneous nipple discharge. During a breast examination, lymph nodes under the armpit and above the collarbone may be felt for enlargement or firmness, which might indicate the spread of breast cancer.



Web posted on Thursday, October 02, 2008













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