October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers for women in the United States, second only to skin cancers, and the average woman has about a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. The great news is that huge strides have been made in treatment, detection, and understanding the causes of breast cancer. With October being breast cancer awareness month, there’s no better time to make sure you understand your risk factors and what screenings are available to you.

Most of us know someone impacted by breast cancer, but how much do you know about the disease itself? Breast cancer begins when changes or mutations in DNA cause previously normal cells to start growing out of control. Eventually these grow to form a tumor which can then be felt as a lump or seen using medical imaging equipment. If a cancerous tumor is not identified and treated early enough, the cancer may continue to grow and potentially spread to other parts of the body.

What causes breast cancer in the first place? Researchers have identified risk factors that increase a woman’s odds of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. Some of these risk factors are, unfortunately, not within a woman’s realm of control. These risk factors include:

  • Being a woman
  • Aging
  • Certain inherited genes
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Having dense breast tissue
  • Certain benign breast conditions
  • Getting your period before age 12
  • Going through menopause after 55
  • Having radiation to your chest
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES)

There are other lifestyle-related risk factors you can control. These include:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not being physically active
  • Not having children or having your first child after age 30
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Using hormonal birth control
  • Hormone therapy after menopause
  • Breast implants

All women can benefit from getting to and staying at a healthy weight, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, and limiting or avoiding alcohol (no more than one drink per day). Women with an especially high risk of breast cancer, like someone with a known genetic mutation or a very strong family history, should discuss further steps to lessen their risk of developing breast cancer with their health care provider.

How is breast cancer detected? Early detection, when cancer is smaller and hasn’t spread, is one of the most powerful tools is preventing breast cancer deaths. This is why screening tests, most commonly mammograms, which can find breast cancer before it causes symptoms, are so important. While mammograms don’t catch 100% of cancers, decades of research have shown a that women who have regular mammograms are more likely catch cancer early, less likely to need aggressive treatment, and more likely to be cured. The American Cancer Society recommends the following screening schedule for women with average breast cancer risk, based on age:

  • 40-44 – may begin yearly mammograms
  • 45-54 – should get yearly mammograms
  • 55+ – may switch to screenings every other year; screenings should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer

What’s new in breast cancer detection? 3D mammography is a very exciting advancement in breast cancer screenings, and fortunately, this new technology is offered locally at Madison County Health Care System (MCHCS). MCHCS recently installed the Hologic 3D Mammography System, which boasts significant improvements in cancer detection, including:

  • 41% increase in the detection of invasive breast Cancers.
  • 29% increase in the detection of all breast cancers.
  • 49% increase in the Positive Predictive Value (PPV) for recall.
  • 21% increase in the PPV for biopsy.
  • 15% DECREASE in women recalled for additional screening.

Hologic 3D Mammography overcomes the challenge of overlapping breast tissue; a major limitation in traditional two dimensional mammography. In 2-dimensional imaging the X-ray tube remains stationary, whereas in 3-dimensional imaging the X-ray tube continuously sweeps in a 15-degree arc over the breast to acquire a series of low-dose projection images at multiple angles.

The faster scanning time means greater comfort and lowers the risk of patient motion; which reduces retakes. Similar to a CAT Scan, the X-Ray tube in its 3.7 second scan has taken images in “slices” which are mathematically reconstructed into what is essentially a 3D image of the breast.

If you have any questions or concerns about your breast cancer risk factors or the right screening schedule for you, schedule an appointment with one of the great health care providers at Health Trust Physicians Clinic. If you’re interested in learning more about 3D mammography or scheduling an appointment for a 3D mammogram, visit us online at https://www.madisonhealth.com/services/radiology/3d-mammography/ or call us at 515-462-2373.

We thank the American Cancer Society for the information in this article.