Step 1 is Prevention!
There is no proven way to prevent breast cancer. However, obesity is associated with excessive body fat composition and elevated hormone levels. Since some breast cancers are hormonally driven and hormones can be stored within fat cells, it is important to keep your body fat composition low. In fact, there is a 33% increase in breast cancer specific and overall mortality in obese individuals with a BMI >30. Furthermore, obesity at diagnosis of breast cancer is linked to a higher risk of the cancer coming back after treatment. This is true for pre- and post-menopausal women. In summary, the best thing you can do to prevent breast cancer and cancer in general, is maintain a healthy body weight with your diet and regular exercise.
Step 2 is Screening & Detection
The goal of screening for breast cancer is early detection of disease in a patient without symptoms, such as a new lump in the breast or skin changes, etc., where the benefit of the test will outweigh the cost of the procedure. In patients with a standard risk of breast cancer, screening is done with a mammogram. In women who have dense breast tissue that may obscure small masses or calcifications, a tomosynthesis or “3-D mammogram” may be preferred. Patients with an elevated risk of breast cancer of 20-25% or greater over their lifetime may be screened with a combination of mammograms and MRI alternating every 6 months. To discuss which type of screening is right for you, talk to your primary care physician or please feel free to schedule a consult with our office.
Step 3 is Diagnosis
If your screening mammogram has any suspicious findings or you have a new lump in your breast, your physician may request “diagnostic imaging”, which consists of a mammogram that looks specifically at the area of concern and may include an ultrasound as well. These imaging studies will look at the mass or calcifications and further clarify if a biopsy (taking a small sample of the tissue) is required. It is very important to understand that just because you get called back for more imaging DOES NOT necessarily mean you have breast cancer! If a biopsy is required, this can be done by the radiologist or possibly a breast surgeon. Once this is done, the tissue will be sent to a pathologist who looks at the tissue under a microscope, where a diagnosis can be made. You will receive a phone call from the office where the biopsy was performed, and if any further treatment is required, you will be sent to your breast surgeon where options will be discussed.
Step 4 is Treatment
Breast cancer is treated with a team of physicians, including your breast surgeon, a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and possibly a plastic surgeon, genetic counselor and many nurses along the way. Every person’s breast cancer is unique and a personalized treatment plan will be made for you if you are diagnosed with breast cancer. Your surgeon and other physicians will discuss this together at a multidisciplinary conference and with you at each visit.
Step 5 is Recovery & Follow Up
Recovery from your breast surgery could range from a few days to several weeks depending on which procedure you have. Your breast surgeon and/or plastic surgeon will give you detailed information about post-operative instructions and follow-up care. You will see your surgeon(s) often in the first few months after surgery. Once your treatment is finished, you will continue to follow-up with your breast surgeon every six months for at least 2 years and often up to five years, depending on the type of cancer you had. This is the time where most recurrences will happen, if they are going to occur at all. It is important to follow up with your breast surgeon during this time, who will order follow up mammograms if indicated and/or perform an exam to look for local recurrences in the breast or chest wall.
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