Women’s Health: Take Control of Breast Cancer

For women in the United States, breast cancer is the most common cancer, behind skin cancers and it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Breast cancer is often curable if detected early, and that’s why regular screening tests and self-examinations should be a vital part of your health and wellness routine.

Dr. Jennifer Medley, radiologist, and Dr. Samilia Obeng-Gyasi, breast surgeon at Indiana University Health West Hospital, offer advice to help you take control of your breast health.

How can I reduce my breast cancer risk?

Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits, such as limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco and maintaining a healthy weight. It’s also helpful to learn about your family health history. Share your medical history with your doctor and ask about your breast cancer risk. If you’re a woman over the age of 40, your doctor will likely suggest a yearly mammogram. Even if you haven’t reached the age to start scheduling regular mammograms, ask your doctor about self-exams, where you can check for anything abnormal.

“It’s important to know what’s normal for you,” Dr. Medley says. “If you notice changes in your breast, don’t be afraid to get it checked out. If it’s determined not to be cancerous, the news will calm your nerves, and if it’s determined to be cancerous, you’ll start treatment right away.”

What’s the process like to get a mammogram?

A standard screening mammogram involves two images of each breast. You’ll be positioned into a machine and the breast will be compressed to take the images. When the imaging is finished, the radiologist will interpret your mammogram and you’ll be notified of the results.

“The compression from the machine helps spread out the breast tissue and helps the radiologist see through the tissue to detect breast cancer,” Dr. Medley says. “While a mammogram isn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t describe it as painful. The entire process – paperwork and all – might make the appointment longer, but the mammogram itself only takes about 15 minutes.”

What happens if breast cancer is detected?

If an abnormality is detected on a screening mammogram, you will likely be asked to schedule a diagnostic mammogram, where extra images will be performed. The additional images help the radiologist determine if the area of concern should be biopsied. If the biopsy reveals breast cancer, you’ll likely work with a radiologist and breast surgeon to determine a treatment plan.

“In general, if a patient is diagnosed with cancer, we determine if the cancer can be removed with a lumpectomy, which removes the tumor, or a mastectomy, which removes the breast,” Dr. Obeng-Gyasi says. “Multiple factors affect this determination, including the size of the tumor, the size of the woman’s breast, genetic factors and prior history of radiation. Talk with your surgeon about your options and choose one that offers you the best clinical and cosmetic outcome.”

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