Talk with your doctor about breast cancer screening and what is right for you
Breast Cancer Awareness Month—observed every October—recognizes breast cancer as the second leading cause of cancer in American women. It is a time to be reminded of the importance of screening tests in detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages when it is most treatable.
Breast cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the breast. The disease is associated with risk factors such as age, a woman’s personal and family medical history, reproductive and menstrual history, previous radiation treatment to the breast or chest area, and breast density.
While some patients may notice a lump, an area of thickening, a dimple in the breast, swelling, or redness of the breast, screening can assist in identifying abnormalities prior to experiencing any outward signs or symptoms of breast cancer.
“Screening tests are important tools; when physicians recommend a screening test, we don’t necessarily believe a patient has cancer,” says Virtua Fox Chase Cancer Program breast surgeon Eric Miller, MD. “Screening tests are performed when a patient doesn’t have symptoms; we may then identify cancer at an earlier time.”
The three tests typically used in breast cancer screening are mammograms, clinical breast exams, and breast self-exams. The mammogram is an X-ray of the breasts that finds tumors that are too small to feel. The detection ability of a mammogram depends on tumor size, breast tissue density, and the skill of the radiologist reading the mammogram. A clinical breast exam is a manual exam performed by a healthcare professional; a breast self-exam is a manual exam that a woman can do on her own.
The American Cancer Society recommends that:
- Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year to screen for breast cancer.
- Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam about every three years and for women 40 and older, every year.
- Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.
- Some women at high risk for breast cancer due to family history, genetic predisposition, or certain other factors should have screening with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to a yearly mammogram.
“While MRI is more sensitive than a mammogram, it can produce a higher number of false-positive results, which may lead to unneeded biopsies and other tests,” says Kathryn Evers, M.D., director of mammography at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “It is generally not recommended as a breast screening tool on its own because it also can miss some cancers that a mammogram would detect.”
“It is important to talk with your doctor about breast cancer screening and what is right for you,” adds Dr. Miller. “If you are concerned about your risk of cancer or your family’s risk, you also may want to speak with your doctor about an appointment with Fox Chase’s Risk Assessment Program.”
As one of New Jersey’s largest health systems, Virtua helps people be well, get well and stay well through a comprehensive range of health care services. Services are delivered through three health and wellness centers, three fitness centers, three acute care hospitals, primary and specialty physician practices with more than 240 physicians, urgent care centers, nine ambulatory surgery centers, home health services, two long-term care and rehabilitation centers, 12 paramedic units and a wide range of outpatient services. A leader in maternal and child health services, Virtua delivers more than 8,000 babies a year. Virtua also provides employment and wellness services to 1,700 businesses and corporations. An innovator in clinical and information technology such as electronic medical records, Virtua is recognized for its ground-breaking partnerships with GE Healthcare
, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)
and the Fox Chase Cancer Center
. Virtua employs more than 8,700 people and has been honored as the #1 Best Place to Work in the Delaware Valley every year since 2007. It is the recipient of the Consumer Choice Award from the National Research Corporation. For more information, visit www.virtua.org