What causes breast cancer?

Only about 5% of breast cancer is genetically related. The rest is considered environmentally caused breast cancer, which includes your lifestyle choice. Those with a family history of breast cancer or previous abnormal biopsies may require close follow up with two professional clinical breast examinations every year.

Who gets breast cancer?

All women can be diagnosed with breast cancer. Although the causes of breast cancer are still unknown, there are some factors that may increase a woman’s chances of getting the disease:

  • Getting older – Most women are diagnosed when they are 50 years of age or older
  • Having a first menstrual period at a young age (younger than 12 years)
  • Starting menopause at an older age (older than 55 years)
  • Never giving birth, or giving birth to a first child after age 30
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Having had breast cancer or atypical cells on a previous breast biopsy
  • Having a close family member (parent, sibling, child) who has had breast cancer, especially at an early age
  • Having certain gene mutations, such as BRCA 1 or BRCA 2
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drinking alcohol regularly
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation to the chest area early in life
  • Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy

Even if women have one or more of these risk factors, it does not mean they will get breast cancer. Also, many women who get breast cancer do not have any risk factors. This is why screening is important for all women.

What does complete breast cancer screening consist of?

Complete breast cancer screening includes monthly self-examination, annual clinical breast examination by a healthcare professional, and annual mammography beginning at age 40.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. It is important that any new mass, lump, or change in your breast be checked by a healthcare provider. Other possible signs of breast cancer that should be checked by a healthcare provider include: swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt), irritation or dimpling of breast skin, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction (when the nipple turns inward), redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or skin overlying the breast, spontaneous nipple discharge other than breast milk.

Why isn’t ultrasound done alone, instead of mammography?

Current research to date has not shown ultrasound alone to be effective for screening for breast cancer. It is useful in conjunction with mammography in diagnostic evaluation of abnormal findings.

What is a 3D mammogram and is it better than 2D mammogram?

3D mammograms, also known as tomosynthesis (i.e. “tomo”), use the same x-ray technology as regular “2D” mammograms. The procedure is the same from the patient’s point-of-view, although it will take a few seconds longer. In both 3D and 2D mammograms, the breast is compressed between two plates. In 2D mammograms, which take images only from the front and side, this may create images with overlapping breast tissue. Because 3D mammography provides images of the breast in “slices” from many different angles, finding abnormalities and determining which abnormalities seem potentially worrisome may be easier with 3D tests. Studies have shown that 3D mammograms lead to less additional testing/biopsies, and are more accurate at detecting breast cancer. 3D mammography with state-of-the-art equipment is offered at Hunterdon Women’s Imaging Center and Hunterdon Advanced Imaging at Bridgewater. To note, 3D mammography is slightly more expensive than 2D, and some insurance companies may not cover the additional cost. Contact your insurance carrier for further information regarding pricing.

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