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Breast Cancer Awareness and Education

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells in the breast. It encompasses various types, depending on which specific cells in the breast undergo cancerous changes.

The breast consists of three primary components: lobules, ducts, and connective tissue. Lobules are responsible for producing milk, while ducts are the channels that carry milk to the nipple. The connective tissue encompasses fibrous and fatty tissues, providing support and structure. The majority of breast cancers originate in either the ducts or lobules.

Breast cancer has the potential to spread beyond the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels, a process known as metastasis. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is considered metastatic breast cancer.

The most common types of breast cancer include:
1. Invasive ductal carcinoma: Cancer cells originate in the ducts and subsequently extend beyond the ducts into surrounding breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also metastasize to other areas of the body.
2. Invasive lobular carcinoma: Cancer cells begin in the lobules and then spread to adjacent breast tissues. Similar to invasive ductal carcinoma, these cancer cells can also metastasize to other parts of the body.

Additional, less common types of breast cancer include Paget's disease, medullary carcinoma, mucinous carcinoma, and inflammatory breast cancer.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a non-invasive breast condition that may progress to invasive breast cancer. In DCIS, cancer cells are confined to the lining of the ducts and have not spread to other breast tissues.

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Risk factors you
can't change

  • Age: The risk for breast cancer increases with age, and most cases are diagnosed after age 50.

  • Genetic mutations: Women with inherited mutations in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2 have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

  • Reproductive history: Early onset of menstrual periods (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55) expose women to hormones for longer periods, increasing the risk of breast cancer.

  • Dense breasts: Having more connective tissue than fatty tissue in the breasts can make it harder to detect tumors on mammograms, increasing the risk of breast cancer.

  • Personal history: Previous breast cancer diagnosis and certain non-cancerous breast conditions, such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ, are associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Family history: Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast or ovarian cancer, or multiple family members on either side with these cancers, increases a woman's risk. A first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises the risk.

  • Previous radiation therapy: Women who received radiation therapy to the chest or breasts before age 30 (e.g., for Hodgkin's lymphoma) have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES): Women who were exposed to DES, a drug given to prevent miscarriage between 1940 and 1971, either directly or through their mothers during pregnancy, have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Why we offer free mammograms:
The importance of early detection

Early detection is key in the fight against breast cancer. It significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and prevents deaths. Regular screening tests are crucial for finding breast cancer at its early stages when it is small and hasn't spread. Here's why you should consider getting a mammogram:


1. Detecting Cancer Before Symptoms: Screening tests aim to identify diseases in individuals without any symptoms. Early detection means finding and diagnosing breast cancer before it manifests noticeable symptoms, such as a palpable lump. By catching breast cancer early, treatment options and outcomes are greatly improved.


2. Increased Treatment Success: Breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller in size and less likely to have spread beyond the breast. The size and extent of cancer spread are vital factors in determining the prognosis for a woman with breast cancer. Early detection allows for less invasive treatment options, reducing the need for aggressive interventions like mastectomy and chemotherapy.


3. Reliable Screening Guidelines: The American Cancer Society has established screening guidelines for women at average risk of breast cancer and those at high risk. These guidelines help healthcare providers determine when and how often women should undergo mammograms based on their individual risk factors.


4. Overcoming Barriers: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted regular cancer screenings, causing many individuals to miss crucial mammograms. It's essential to address any concerns or obstacles and discuss with your doctor to plan, schedule, and prioritize your regular cancer screenings.


5. Understanding Mammograms: Mammograms are low-dose x-rays specifically designed for breast imaging. These screenings can detect breast changes that may indicate cancer years before physical symptoms appear. Extensive research confirms that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer identified earlier, requiring less invasive treatments and increasing the chances of a cure.


6. 2D vs. 3D Mammograms: Digital breast tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography, has gained popularity due to its potential advantages. Studies suggest that 3D mammograms may lower the rate of callbacks for further testing and detect more breast cancers, particularly in women with dense breast tissue. However, it's important to consider the associated cost, as 3D mammograms may not be covered by insurance.


7. Clinical Breast Exams (CBE) and Breast Self-Exams (BSE): Research indicates that regular physical breast exams performed by healthcare professionals (CBE) or self-exams (BSE) do not provide significant benefits when combined with screening mammograms for women at average risk. However, for women at higher-than-average risk, healthcare providers may still offer clinical breast exams and provide counseling about risk and early detection. Some women may prefer to perform regular self-exams to stay familiar with their breast appearance and feel, enabling prompt reporting of any changes to healthcare providers.


8. MRI for High-Risk Women: Women at high risk for breast cancer, based on certain factors, should undergo yearly breast MRI and mammogram screenings. This includes individuals with a strong family history, known genetic mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2), previous chest radiation therapy, or specific genetic syndromes. The decision to initiate MRI and mammogram screening at age 30 should be made with healthcare providers based on personal circumstances and preferences.


9. Assessing Breast Cancer Risk: Various risk assessment tools are available to estimate a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. These tools consider factors such as family history, breast density, and personal medical history. Healthcare providers use these tools alongside screening guidelines to determine if additional screenings, like breast MRI, are necessary.


Remember, early detection through mammograms can save lives. Consult with your healthcare provider to assess your risk factors and develop a personalized breast health screening plan. If you are 40 or older and uninsured, Panhandle Breast Health can help you gain access to a free mammogram: Click here to apply for screening assistance in English or Spanish. 

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