Frequently Asked Questions About Breast Cancer
Cancer. A single word that can turn a person's world inside out. The Internet makes getting information about cancer easier than ever. But unverifiable information is abundant in cyberspace. It's important for women to obtain knowledge, not just information. For free accurate, up-to-date, cancer-related explanations from an oncology nurse (weekdays from 8:30 a.m. -4:30 p.m.), or for physician referral information, please call The James Line at (614) 293-5066 or toll-free at 1-800-293-5066.
Following are some of the most frequently asked questions by patients about breast cancer.
Q. What are the warning signs?
A. The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or thickening in the breast. Other signs include:
- change in the size or shape of the breast,
- discharge from the nipple, or
- change in the color or feel of the skin of the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered or scaly; warm, red or swollen).
It's important to note that there may be no warning signs or symptoms. Breast self-exams, clinical breast exams and regularly scheduled mammograms are vital in the screening and early detection of the disease.
Q. What causes breast cancer?
A. No one yet knows what causes breast cancer, but medical research has generated a lot of knowledge about the disease. Researchers at the Comprehensive Cancer Center have made some important discoveries in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer, ranging from understanding more about the genetic aspects of cancer to developing a vaccine that may treat and prevent breast cancer.
Q. How likely am I to get breast cancer?
A. Statistics show that a woman has a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women in the United States, other than non-melanoma skin cancers. Three-fourths of breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women age 50 and older. And although breast cancer is more common in older women, it does occur in younger women and in men. There are additional factors that may increase a woman's cancer risk.
Q. What should I do if I find a lump while performing a monthly breast self-exam?
A. Check the other breast. Some lumpiness is normal. However, if the lump is new or unusual, it warrants examination by a physician. A lump found during a breast self-exam, a clinical breast exam or a mammogram does not necessarily mean that a woman has breast cancer. Nearly 80 percent of all breast lumps are noncancerous (benign). However, cancer is a possibility. Early detection and treatment provides the best outcome, so a woman shouldn't let fear stop her from seeing a physician.
Q. What are my risks for getting breast cancer?
A. Being a woman and getting older are the biggest risk factors for developing breast cancer. Other risk factors include:
- family history of breast cancer in a close family member on either mother's or father's side;
- onset of menstruation before age 12;
- onset of menopause after age 50; or
- not having children or having a first child after age 30.
Q. Is a mammogram painful?
A. The pressure caused by spreading the breast tissue may be uncomfortable, but it should not be painful. Women who experience pain should tell the technologist.
Q. Is the radiation exposure from getting a mammogram harmful?
A. The radiation exposure from modern, low-dose mammography equipment is minimal. Radiation doses usually are so low they're negligible. Plus, the medical benefits of early detection outweigh any potential risk.
Q. How do I decide which treatment option is best for me?
A. Speak with your physician about treatment options. Although there are four standard ways to treat breast cancer (surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and chemotherapy), several treatments may be combined. Your physician can recommend specific treatments depending on the type and location of the cancer, the stage at which it was detected, and your age and general health.
Q. What exactly is a clinical trial? Should I participate in one?
A. Clinical trials are studies that help evaluate a new treatment. Clinical trials attempt to answer scientific questions and to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. An institutional review board (IRB) carefully reviews the study before patients begin participation in the clinical trial. Also, some studies are reviewed by government agencies, such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Anyone wishing to participate in a clinical trial should speak with their physician about treatment options and eligibility.