Frequently asked questions about breast cancer

Everybody – and contrary to popular belief, not just women – should learn as much as possible about breast cancer, which you can do here at Discount Medical Supplies and this list of frequently asked questions about breast cancer.

Frequently asked questions about breast cancer

1.What is breast cancer?

Cancer occurs when healthy cells in the body begin to grow and cluster abnormally, forming tumors. When cancer begins in the breast, it is called breast cancer.

2.Are different types of breast cancer?

Yes. The most common is ductal carcinoma, which begins in the cells that line the milk ducts. Another common form is lobular carcinoma, in which the cancer cells begin in the lobes, or lobules, of the breast. Both ductal and lobular can be in situ (cancer cells have not spread to other tissues in the breast) or invasive (cancer cells break through the ducts and spread into other parts of the breast tissue, and can also spread to other parts of the body). Less common types are Paget’s disease, inflammatory breast cancer, medullary, mucinous, tubular, metaplastic, and papillary breast cancer.

3.What causes breast cancer?

The cause of breast cancer is not clear. Experts have identified hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors that may increase the risk of breast cancer. However, they have not been able to determine why some people develop cancer and others don’t. It is estimated that only 5%-10% of breast cancers are related to inherited mutated genes – more often than not breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2).

4.What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

·         A new lump in the breast or underarm, or thickening or swelling in the breast that feels different from the tissue around it.

·         Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.

·         Discharge from the nipple that is not breast milk, for example blood.

·         Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast.

·         Changes to the skin over the breast.

·         A newly inverted nipple.

·         Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.

·         Pain in any area of the breast.

·         Peeling, redness, scaling or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the areola or breast skin.

·         Redness or pitting of the skin over the breast, like the skin of an orange.

5.Are all breast lumps tumors?

Not necessarily. Cancer is not the only condition that causes breast lumps. Most are caused by such conditions as fibrocystic breast condition and cysts; the former causes noncancerous changes in the breast that can make them lumpy, tender, and sore, while the latter are small fluid-filled sacs that can develop in the breast

6.What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

·         Female gender.

·         Age (most breast cancers are found in women aged 50 or older).

·         A personal or family history.

·         Hereditary genes.

·         Exposure to radiation.

·         Obesity.

·         Beginning menstruation before 12 years of age.

·         Beginning menopause at an older age.

·         Giving birth to a first child after 35 years of age.

·         Never having been pregnant.

·         Long-term post-menopausal hormone therapy.

·         Drinking alcohol.

·         Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES).

·         Dense breasts.

·         Working night shifts (shiftwork that involves circadian disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans).

·         Atypical hyperplasia of the breast.

7.Which factors decrease the risk for breast cancer?

·         Being older when having the first menstrual period.

·         Beginning menopause at an earlier age.

·         Giving birth to more children, being younger at the birth of the first child, and breastfeeding.

·         Exercising regularly.

·         Keeping a healthy weight.

·         Drinking alcohol moderately.

·         Getting enough sleep.

·         Avoiding exposure to carcinogenic chemicals.

·         Reducing radiation exposure.

8.How is breast cancer diagnosed/screened?

·         Self-breast exam.

·         Clinical breast exam.

·         Mammogram.

·         Breast ultrasound.

·         Biopsy.

·         Breast MRI.

·         Blood tests.

9.What is a mammogram?

This is an x-ray of the breast used to screen for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best tool for doctors to detect breast cancer early, though it may take up to three a year before the cancer can be found.

10.When should you get a mammogram?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women should have mammograms every two years from age 50 to 74 years.

Talk to your doctor if you experience any symptoms or changes in your breast, or if you have a family history of breast cancer.

11.What happens during a mammogram?

The patient stands in front of a special x-ray machine. A technologist places the patient’s breast between twp plates that firmly press it flat and hold it still while the x-ray is taken. The steps are repeated on the other breast and again to get side views. The technologist cannot tell the results of the test.

12.How does a mammogram feel?

It may feel uncomfortable and painful, but it lasts only a few minutes. Other factors to take into account are the skill of the technologist, the size of the breasts, how much they need to be pressed, and whether they are more sensitive.

13.When are the results of the mammogram ready?

A radiologist will look at the x-ray and reports the results to you or your doctor in a few weeks.

14.What if the mammogram is abnormal?

An abnormal mammogram does not necessarily mean there is cancer, but additional mammograms, tests, or exams will be needed before the doctor can be sure. The patient may also be referred to a breast specialist or a surgeon, which does not necessarily mean the patient has cancer or need surgery.

15.Where can you get a mammogram?

·         Talk to your regular doctor, if you have one.

·         Call the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237). TTY: 1-800-332-8615.

·         For Medicare information, you can call 1-800 MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

·         CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program works with health departments to provide low-cost or free mammograms to women who qualify.

16.How to prepare oneself for a mammogram?

  • Try not to have it the week before you get your period or during your period, as your breasts may be tender or swollen then.
  • Don’t wear deodorant, perfume, or powder, which can show up as white spots on the X-ray.
  • Some women prefer to wear a top with a skirt or pants, instead of a dress. You will need to undress from your waist up for the mammogram.

17.How is breast cancer treated?

·         Lumpectomy (removing the tumor).

·         Sentinel node biopsy (removing a limited number of lymph nodes)

·         Mastectomy (removing the breast.)

·         Radiation therapy.

·         Chemotherapy.

·         Hormone therapy.

·         Biological therapy.

·         Targeted drugs.

·         Bone directed therapy.

18.What is the right treatment for you?

Choosing the right treatment for breast cancer can be a difficult endeavor. Talk to your primary care provider about the risks and benefits of each of the available options for your type and stage of cancer.

19.What are the stages of breast cancer?

Stage 0. Cancer is only in the ducts and lobules of the breast tissue and has not invaded surrounding tissue of the breast.

Stage IA. The tumor is small, invasive, and has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IB. Cancer has spread only to the lymph nodes, and is larger than 0.2 mm but less than 2 mm in size.

Stage IIA. Either there is no evidence of a tumor in the breast, but the cancer has spread to the axillary lymph nodes though not to distant parts of the body, or the tumor is 20 mm or smaller and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes, or is larger than 20 mm but not larger than 50 mm and has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage IIB. Either the tumor is larger than 20 mm but not larger than 50 mm and has invaded one to three axillary lymph nodes, or is larger than 50 mm but has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage IIIA. A cancer of any size has invaded to 4-9 axillary lymph nodes, bit not to other areas of the body.

Stage IIIB. The tumor has spread to the chest wall or caused swelling or ulceration of the breast or is diagnosed as inflammatory breast cancer. It may or may not have invaded lymph nodes under the arm, but it has not spread to other parts of the body.

Stage IIIC. A tumor of any size that has not invaded distant parts of the body but has spread to 10 or more axillary lymph nodes.

Stage IV. A tumor of any size has invaded other organs (bones, lungs, brain, liver, distant lymph nodes) or chest wall.

20.How can one cope with breast cancer?

·         Learning about the condition.

·         Talking with breast cancer survivors.

·         Opening up to friends or relatives.

·         Keeping a close social network.

·         Maintaining intimacy with partner.

21.Can breast cancer be prevented?

there is no specific method for preventing breast cancer, but women can make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk (exercise, weight), as well as talk to a doctor if they have risk factors that are out of their control (family history, hereditary genes). Some women with mutated genes resort to a preemptive single or double mastectomy, a decision that should be carefully discussed with a physician before carrying out.

22.How common is breast cancer?

It is the second most common cancer in American women after skin cancer.

23.Can men get breast cancer?

Yes, but it’s not very common – less than 1% of breast cancer occur in men. When they occur, they do so mostly in men aged 60 and 70 years old, though men of any age can be affected. Signs of breast cancer and treatment are almost the same as for women. 

24.Can younger women get breast cancer?

About 11% of all new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. are found in women younger than 45 years of age.

25.What are the risk factors for breast cancer in younger women?

  • Close relatives who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer when they were younger than 45, especially if more than one relative was diagnosed or if a male relative had breast cancer.
  • Changes in certain breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), or have close relatives with these changes.
  • An Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
  • Treatment with radiation therapy to the breast or chest during childhood or early adulthood.
  • Having had breast cancer or certain other breast health problems.
  • Having been told they have dense breasts on a mammogram.

26.What can younger women do to reduce their risk?

·         Become familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts. Any change in size or shape, pain, abnormal nipple discharge, and other symptoms warrant a talk with the doctor.

·         Talk to your healthcare provider if have a higher risk (see above).

27.What are dense breasts?

A dense breast has less fat than glandular and connective tissue. Mammogram films of breasts with higher density are harder to read and interpret than those of less dense breasts.

28.Can breast cancer recur?

Breast cancer can come back in the breast or in other areas of the body.


Related: Can hormone replacement therapy cause ovarian cancer?