Detecting breast cancer
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women ages 40 to 55, second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women other than skin cancer.
“The earlier breast cancer is found, the better the chances that treatment will work,” says Edward Romond, M.D., associate professor of medicine, UK College of Medicine, Division of Hematology/ Oncology. “Early detection and treatment of breast cancer saves lives.”
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A lump may feel like a hard mass that has irregular edges or it may feel soft and rounded. A swelling in the breast, skin irritation, dimpling, nipple pain or retraction, redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk may all be signs of breast cancer. “A breast cancer can spread to underarm lymph nodes even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt.
“Also, although mammograms are quite good for detecting breast cancers that cannot be felt, it is important to realize that mammograms do not detect all breast cancers and some breast cancers that can be felt may not show up on a mammogram. Therefore, a health care professional should check any new breast mass or lump that develops around the breast area,” Romond says.
Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for breast cancer, and the chance of getting breast cancer increases as a woman gets older. A woman with cancer in one breast has a greater chance of developing a new cancer in the other breast. Early breast cancer does not produce symptoms, so it is important for all women to follow the guidelines for finding breast cancer early. Breast cancers that are detected because they are causing symptoms tend to be relatively larger and are more likely to have spread beyond the breast.
Between 5 and 10 percent of breast cancers appear to be linked to changes in certain genes. Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives, either on the mother’s or father’s side of the family, have this disease. In some families, women can inherit a genetic mutation that causes hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome, which is characterized by an increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Inheriting a gene with a mutation for breast cancer does not mean that cancer will develop, but that a person with the mutation has a higher breast cancer risk than someone without the mutation. New genetic programs, like the UK Markey Cancer Center Genetic Counseling Program, provide genetic counseling services for families with multiple cases of cancer.
Breast cancer stats
The size of a breast cancer and how far it has spread are the most important factors in predicting the prognosis.
Consider these ACS statistics:
• At least 90 percent of breast abnormalities are benign (non-cancerous).
• At least 88 percent of early stage breast cancers are detected by a combination of routine self-examination and regular assessments by a physician and a certified mammography center.
• 90 percent of late-stage breast cancers are found in women who have failed to do routine self-exams and who have not been screened by a physician or a certified mammography center.
All women over the age of 20 should do breast self-examination every month. All women over the age of 40 should have a mammogram and a clinical breast examination by a doctor or nurse every year. All women, regardless of age, should have a clinical breast examination by a doctor or nurse every year.
MORE INFO ON BREAST CANCER
American Cancer Society
Cancer Information Service
UK Markey Cancer Center
(866) 340-4488 or
(859) 257-4488 for info on genetic counseling