Breast Cancer Team

Frequently Asked Questions

Answers To Your Questions About Breast Cancer

What is breast cancer?
It's a group of diseases caused by the growth of abnormal cells in the breast. The cancer cells form lumps, also called tumors. Left untreated, cancer cells can break away from the tumor and travel to other parts of the body, forming new tumors. But there is good news. Discovering the cancer early greatly increases your chances of successful treatment.

Why should I learn about breast cancer?
Because it can affect you. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S. About 185,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. You can learn to help detect the disease early, when it is most treatable. The more you know about breast cancer, the more you can do to keep yourself healthy.

What causes breast cancer?
In a very small number of cases, it's caused by a defective gene. But in most cases, the cause is unknown. Scientists are studying several factors:

  • Diet -- for example, whether eating less fat and more fiber helps prevent breast cancer.
  • Smoking -- whether this known cause of some other cancers plays a role in breast cancer.
  • Alcohol use -- suspected, but not yet proven, to be linked to breast cancer.
  • Exercise -- it may help prevent breast cancer in women under 40.
  • Environmental factors -- especially certain pesticides.
  • Hormone changes -- such as those caused by starting menstruation early or reaching menopause late.

It's too early to know for sure if these things affect breast cancer risk. Hormone or estrogen replacement therapy can help prevent heart disease and osteoporosis after menopause. Experts generally agree that these benefits far outweigh any possible risk of breast cancer, except in women already treated for breast cancer. Ask your healthcare provider for details.

How likely am I to develop breast cancer?
Any woman can develop breast cancer. Some women have special risks. Your risk is higher if you:

  • Are age 50 or over
  • Already had breast cancer
  • Have an immediate relative, such as mother, sister or daughter, who had or has breast cancer
  • Never had a child or had your first child after age 30

All woman must be aware:

  • Even if you have no risk factors, you can still get breast cancer. In fact, most women who have developed the disease had no identified risk factors.
  • Having risk factors doesn't mean you will be breast cancer. But, be aware of your possibly higher risk, an follow your health-care provider's advice.

How can I learn to do BSE correctly? How can I be sure I am doing it right?
Your health team will explain and demonstrate BSE technique. You may feel insecure during your first few examination, especially about distinguishing between anything unusual and the normal "feel" of your breasts. Do not be embarrassed about referring ALL questions to your team (and/or your doctor); there is no such thing as a "dumb" question. After a few monthly exams, you will become familiar with your own normal breast structure and confident in your ability to recognize potentially troublesome changes.

Does BSE replace my doctor's exam. What about mammography?
All three work together. Your monthly BSE protects you between regular physician's checkups. If you have not breast cancer symptoms, the American Cancer Society recommends that your doctor examine your breasts every three years if you are between 20 and 40 years of age and every year for those over the age of 40. Mammography: Women should have a screening mammography by age 40 as a baseline; every 1-2 years from age 40-49; every year for women age 50 and over. (Source: American Cancer Society, 1996) Women with a personal or family history of breast cancer should consult their physician about more frequent examinations and/or mammography.

Should I do BSE more often than once a month?
Once a month is enough, but it is important to be regular. BSE should be done at the same time each month – if you are menstruating, about a week after the beginning of your period. (BSE should not be performed before or during menstruation because breasts then are more likely to be swollen, tender, and oversensitive, and to feel lumpy.) If you have passed menopause, examine your breasts on the first day of each calendar moth or on any easy-to-remember date, such as the date of your birthday. If you have had a hysterectomy, your doctor will advise you as to the right time of the month for BSE.

Should I stop BSE while I am pregnant?
Absolutely not; once learned, BSE should be practiced faithfully throughout your lifetime. If you are pregnant, examine your breasts on the first day of each month or another easily remembered date.

Will I get breast cancer if my breasts are injured?
An Injury or blow to the chest cannot cause cancer; however it may cause a woman to become more aware of her breasts, drawing attention to a cancer already present.