This is what you need to know about breast cancer risk right now

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GOODYEAR (Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Phoenix) – Cancer. It’s one of the most terrifying words a doctor can utter or a patient can hear. But with Cancer Treatment Centers of America, part of City of Hope, (CTCA) you have an army of experienced doctors ready and able to help you get through it and win your battle.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation says 1 in 8 women in this country will develop breast cancer. You or somebody you love could be one of them. Once upon a time, that diagnosis was considered by many to be a death sentence. Three things have rewritten that story.

  • ·Improved screening technology
  • Advances in treatments
  • Awareness and women taking charge of their health

“The majority of breast cancers today are picked up through mammography, through screening,” explained Dr. Lise Walker, a breast surgeon. She runs the High Risk Breast Cancer Program at CTCA Phoenix.

In most cases, women should get their first mammogram when they’re 40. After that, it’s one a year. No skipping. Mark it on your calendar and get it done every year. That’s how doctors catch breast cancer early when it’s most treatable.

In addition to a yearly mammogram, you should do a simple breast exam every month. The initial sign and symptoms of breast cancer can be subtle. Nobody knows your body as well as you and perhaps your partner. Changes in the skin, like dimpling or redness, unusual nipple discharge, or a lump, could all be signs that something is up.

“Some women will have pain, although that’s not a common complaint with breast cancer,” Walker said

If you have any one of those things, it’s time to call a doctor to either rule out anything scary or get you on the road to recovery.

"The majority of breast cancers today are picked up through mammography, through screening,"...
"The majority of breast cancers today are picked up through mammography, through screening," Dr. Lise Walker of CTCA Phoenix says. "The majority of women are going to do excellent, especially when they’re diagnosed early."(Cancer Treatment Centers of America Phoenix)

The dreaded mammogram (It’s not that bad!)

Mammography saves lives. It’s as simple as that. But not all mammogram equipment is the same.

“It’s really important to find a facility for your mammogram that has the 3D technology,” said CTCA Phoenix mammographer Elisha Turner. She explained that a 2D mammogram gives you only one image of the breast. A 3D machine looks at the breast in tiny “slices,” giving the radiologist a much better picture (literally) of what’s happening in your body. Turner says 3D mammograms are especially good for women with dense breast tissue.

Mammograms, by nature of what they are and what they’re looking at, can be intimidating. In the simplest terms, your breast is going to be squeezed firmly between two panels. Some women are afraid it will be painful. It’s not. Uncomfortable? Yes. Not going to lie. Does it hurt? No. And the discomfort is pretty short-lived. It only takes about 12 seconds to get a 3D image, Turner said. She’ll take three views of each breast at 12 seconds a shot.

“It really isn’t as bad as the rumors out there say,” Turner continued. “I promise you it’s not painful.”

Mammograms don’t hurt

Getting a mammogram at CTCA is relatively quick - you’re in and out in about 15 minutes – and you’ll get the results in as little as 24 hours. That’s huge.

A mammogram is a small price to pay for peace of mind – either that there’s nothing to see or that there is, and you’ve caught it early.

“CTCA has a really great model,” Turner said. “You come here for your mammogram. If you have any issues, we are the experts.”

Those experts – your experts – are all in one place.

“We get you taken care of without the wait,” Turner said. Because when you’re diagnosed with cancer, waiting for treatment is the last thing you want to do.

“We care about our patients,” Turner said. “We want them to feel that we know them and we understand them. We really want them to know when they go home that they are being taken care of.”

Know your risk for developing breast cancer

Awareness is a big part of surviving breast cancer, and it’s not just about knowing your body and being diligent in getting your yearly mammogram. You have to know the risk factors – your risk.

“We’re probably more familiar with the factors that we can’t control,” Dr. Walker said. “Age is one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer. The older we get, the more risk there is - can’t do anything about that.”

Genetics fall into that uncontrollable category, as well.

“The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene,” according to the American Cancer Society. “Mutated versions of these genes can lead to abnormal cell growth, which can lead to cancer.”

Having a mutated BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene is not a guarantee that somebody will develop breast cancer. It’s one piece of the risk puzzle.

Another piece of that puzzle – a huge one – is family history.

“I think there’s a common misconception that it’s only the mother’s side of the family that’s important when you look at breast cancer risk,” Dr. Walker said.

Knowing the cancer history on both sides of the family is essential, and not just breast cancer.

“There are a number of cancers that we know can link into breast cancer,” Dr. Walker explained, specifically mentioning colon, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. “All of these cancers can have some genetic links into breast cancer risks.”

Other risks out of our control include having dense breast tissue, prior chest wall radiation treatment, and early menstruation or late menopause.

On the flip side, there are risk factors that we can control – lifestyle things.

“Being active – exercise – helps lower breast cancer risk,” Dr. Walker said. Managing your weight and limiting your use of tobacco, alcohol, and hormone replacement can lower your risk, as well.

(Arizona's Family)

What if I’m at high risk of developing breast cancer?

“There are medications out there that can help lower their risk, lifestyle modifications that can help lower their risk, and even for the highest-risk folks, risk-reducing surgery,” Dr. Walker said.

If you are considered high-risk, you’ll want to have a discussion with your doctors about ramping up your screenings. Again, family history comes into play. Dr. Walker used a woman whose mother had breast cancer as an example.

“We’ll start screening them 10 years younger than the mom’s age at diagnosis,” she said. “If mom was 42, we’ll start screening at 32.”

Sometimes screenings start even earlier.

“For those at the highest risk level, we’ll be doing breast MRIs even in their 20s,” Dr. Walker continued.

CTCA has developed an online assessment to help you get an idea about your level of risk for cancer. You’ll answer a series of questions about yourself, your health, your family history, and your lifestyle. It only takes a few minutes but can arm you – and your doctor – with some critical information.

I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now what?

Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.

“The majority of women are going to do excellent, especially when they’re diagnosed early,” Dr. Walker said.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer – any type of cancer, actually – is a learning process. Learning about your cancer. Learning about your treatment options. Learning how different types of treatments work together. Learning what the side effects of certain treatments might be. Learning how to get through each stage of your treatment. Learning how to get back to your life.

“One of the best things about the Cancer Treatment Centers of America here is that everything...
“One of the best things about the Cancer Treatment Centers of America here is that everything is under one roof,” Dr. Walker said. “There’s a very comprehensive team of physicians.”(Cancer Treatment Centers of America)

Start at step one.

“The majority of women who are newly diagnosed will meet with a breast surgeon,” Dr. Walker said. That surgeon will walk you through your options, and it might not be a mastectomy.

“The good news is most women diagnosed today are candidates for breast conservation,” Dr. Walker said. “It allows them to preserve their breast.”

You’ll also meet with a medical oncologist to discuss drug therapy, a radiation oncologist, and possibly a genetic counselor.

“Again, the good news is that the majority of women diagnosed today will not need chemotherapy,” Dr. Walker said. “Most of them are on a pill-type medication.”

Your medical team will get you and your family through this.

“One of the best things about the Cancer Treatment Centers of America here is that everything is under one roof,” Dr. Walker said. “There’s a very comprehensive team of physicians.”

They work together to design the best treatment for you. You will know all the options available to you, and everybody will be on the same page.

What you need to do right now

Dr. Walker and Turner agree that screening for breast cancer is of the utmost importance for all women, regardless of their risk level. They need to understand “how common breast cancer is and not be afraid of it,” Dr. Walker said.

It’s no time to be shy. Do your self-exams. Be aware of your body. Talk to your doctor. Get your mammograms. If something feels different or looks off, don’t wait to get it checked. Early diagnosis lets you get the treatment you need to beat breast cancer and get on with your happy, healthy life.

Take the next step. Make an appointment to get your mammogram today.

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About Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Finding a care team you can trust and believe in has always been important, but in today’s uncertain times, it’s more important than ever. The doctors of Cancer Treatment Centers of America focus on cancer. Every stage. Every day. Integrative, comprehensive care is delivered by a team of specialists and other cancer experts, all under one roof.

CTCA serves locations across the United States through our Comprehensive Care Centers and Outpatient Care Centers. Our national network of cancer hospitals has earned accreditation and certification from numerous renowned health care organizations for delivering high-quality care and exceeding patient safety standards.

The team at CTCA Phoenix is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, to listen, answer your questions, and help you decide whether CTCA is right for you.

The doctors of Cancer Treatment Centers of America focus on cancer. Every stage. Every day.
The doctors of Cancer Treatment Centers of America focus on cancer. Every stage. Every day.(Cancer Treatment Centers of America)

About City of Hope

City of Hope, one of the top 10 cancer hospitals in the U.S., is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of people with cancer, diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses. Its mission is to transform the future of cancer care. Each day City of Hope researchers, associates, scientists, doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, graduate students, fundraising specialists, marketing professionals, volunteers, and support staff work to turn science into a practical benefit; hope into reality.

City of Hope is a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), reflecting its national leadership in advancing research and treatment with the ultimate goal of finding cures and saving lives.

The Wishing Tree carries wishes of hope and healing for City of Hope and CTCA patients.
The Wishing Tree carries wishes of hope and healing for City of Hope and CTCA patients.(City of Hope)