Because 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, it’s important to understand the basics about breast health. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the U.S., claiming more than 40,000 lives annually. Although genetics can play a role in the development of breast cancer, approximately 85% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no known family history of the illness. Here’s what you should know to protect yourself.
You can take steps to prevent breast cancer.
Regular exercise, a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a lean body weight can all help reduce your risk of breast cancer, while tobacco and excessive alcohol use increase the risk. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week, eat at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables per day, and limit consumption of processed and red meats.
Women who get annual mammograms beginning at age 40 are least likely to die of breast cancer.
Modern mammography screening is more accurate than ever before, enabling radiologists to spot more breast cancers earlier. In general, breast cancers that are caught early can be more successfully treated with less invasive methods than breast cancers that are discovered at later stages. In fact, it's estimated that finding breast cancer early increases a patient's survival odds by 25–30% or more.
Breast tomosynthesis produces clearer images than traditional digital mammography.
The enhanced clarity and detail of breast tomosynthesis—more commonly known as 3-D mammography—both aids detection of invasive cancers and helps to avoid unnecessary callbacks. Large studies have found that the use of tomosynthesis increased invasive cancer detection by 41% and reduced false positive results by 15%. So, by opting for a 3-D mammogram, you can both increase the odds that any cancer that is present will be found and reduce your chances of having to go through unnecessary follow-up procedures.
Breast density affects both your risk of breast cancer and the accuracy of your mammogram.
In Iowa and many other areas, mammography providers are required to include information about breast density in mammogram reports. Breast density refers to the proportion of fat in relation to glandular and fibrous tissue; breasts that are considered “dense” have more of the glandular and fibrous tissue. This complicates mammograms because these types of tissue appear white on mammography images, allowing it to potentially obscure the radiologist’s view of a tumor. Additionally, dense breast tissue is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. 3-D mammography is particularly beneficial for women with dense breasts because the multiple views it uses allow the radiologist to “see around” dense tissue to identify structures it might otherwise hide.
It’s important to know your body.
While breast self-exam isn’t currently recommended for cancer screening, being familiar with how your breasts typically look and feel will help you identify any changes. If you notice any of the following signs that breast cancer may be developing, consult your doctor.
- A new lump
- Change in breast size or shape
- New and persistent localized pain that does not seem related to your menstrual cycle
- Warmth, redness, or darkening of the skin of the breast
- Swelling, puckering, or dimpling of the breast
- An “orange peel” appearance, commonly called “peau d’orange”
- Sudden appearance of nipple discharge (not caused by squeezing)
Be aware that many breast changes are normal and not indicative of cancer. However, it’s important to get any of these symptoms checked out to identify their cause and, if cancer is present, treat it as soon as possible.
Iowa Radiology provides a range of breast care services, including low-radiation dose 3-D mammography, breast MRI and ultrasound, and imaging-guided breast biopsy, at our Des Moines-area clinics. Click here to request a mammography appointment, or click the links below to access our free resources for more information about mammography.