Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Nov 15, 2019

What to know about prevention, diagnosis and treatment

In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Baptist Health System is helping to share the importance of regular screening that can lead to fast, accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.

Breast cancer can strike anyone, young or old, male or female, from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life. This year, more than 230,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer accounts for more than one in three cancers diagnosed in the United States, making it the most common cancer among women, other than skin cancer. About 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with some form of breast cancer during their lifetime.

The Importance of Screening for Early Diagnosis

Mammography is the most effective way to diagnose breast cancer early. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that women between the ages of 20 and 39 have a clinical breast exam by a health professional every three years. After age 40, it should increase to once a year. However, you should talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors before deciding about when to start getting mammograms or how often you should get them.

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or mass. Other common symptoms include breast swelling, skin irritation, the nipple turning inward, nipple discharge (not breast milk), and breast or nipple pain. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should speak with their doctor.

Three tests used to diagnose breast conditions are diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic mammogram, which generates X-ray pictures, focuses on a specific area of the breast and takes more detailed pictures of the areas that look abnormal. An ultrasound, which uses sound waves, can help doctors determine if an abnormality is a benign fluid-filled cyst or a potentially cancerous solid mass. MRI, which uses radio waves and strong magnets, is sometimes used to look for tumors that did not appear on a mammogram.

Imaging tests can help locate a breast mass, but they cannot confirm a breast cancer diagnosis. This is done during a biopsy to remove cells or tissue samples for laboratory testing. There are three main types of biopsies. Fine needle aspiration biopsy involves inserting a very thin needle into the suspicious area to withdraw cells. Ultrasound may be used to guide the needle if the lump cannot be easily located. A core needle biopsy uses a slightly larger needle to remove three to five small cylinders of tissue from the breast abnormality. Larger core biopsies can be performed using suction to remove tissue samples. Surgery may be recommended to remove all or part of a lump for examination. During an incisional biopsy, a sample is removed from the abnormal area. An excisional biopsy involves removing the entire mass as well as a surrounding margin of normal tissue. If cancer cells are found after a biopsy, test results can determine the cancer type and whether it is invasive (likely to spread) or in situ (localized).

Surgical Treatment Options

There are two types of surgeries offered for breast cancer - lumpectomy with radiation and mastectomy. Surgical oncologist Dennis Rousseau, MD says whatever type of surgery a woman undergoes, how well you do with breast cancer, both types of surgeries are exactly the same in terms of outcomes. “The surgeon will talk with the patient about what is the best surgical option but both approaches are the same from a cancer survival standpoint.” Morton Kahlenberg, MD, medical director for Baptist Cancer Care says the goal is always a cure. Our entire team is working toward the same goal, and that’s a cure,” says Kahlenberg. “We work to provide care that is coordinated by a team of experts, delivered in a compassionate and personal way so that patients are involved in their care, and can make decisions with us about what they want and what they expect.”

Nurturing Support from Patient Navigators

Hearing the words “You have cancer,” is devastating. But what happens after that is a question that many patients fear the most. At Baptist Health System patients never have to fear the unknown or feel alone on their journey through cancer treatment. As part of Baptist’s commitment to patient-centered care, every patient who receives a cancer diagnosis is partnered with a patient navigator. The navigator is a trained professional who serves as the patients’ personal concierge throughout their entire journey. From diagnosis through surgery and treatment, and through survivorship, patients always know what to expect and how to manage it. Patient navigators help guide patients every step of the way including assisting them in making appointments for doctor visits and additional medical testing or screenings. Navigators also provide support in communicating with health care providers as well as with insurance companies, employers, case managers, lawyers or others agencies or individuals who play a role that may affect the patients’ health care needs and well-being.

Hilda Martinez was paired with Baptist Breast Center navigator Briana Sanchez after being diagnosed with breast cancer on her 69th birthday. “Brie was very compassionate and displayed a lot of empathy and showed genuine concern for my wellbeing,” says Martinez. “She explained the process and procedures that were going to be done. She also was very clear that she would be with me for 5 years, as a facilitator with my team of doctors.” Martinez had surgery to remove the cancer and some lymph nodes as well as radiation. She recently had her one-year post treatment mammogram and is cancer free.

Do You Have a Higher Risk of Breast Cancer?

A risk factor is something that increases or decreases your chances of developing a disease such as cancer. But just because you have one risk factor, or several, does not mean you will be diagnosed with the disease. A woman may have breast cancer for no apparent reason, while another may not, even though her mother and other family members have been diagnosed with the disease.

So, do you have a higher risk of breast cancer? Here are a number of risk factors to consider:

- Being a woman. Women are about 100 times more likely than men to develop breast cancer.
- Being older. Approximately two-thirds of invasive breast cancers are diagnosed in women age 55 or older.
- Inheriting certain gene defects.Between five and 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary. The inherited gene mutation called BRCA1 and BRCA2 is the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer.
- Having a family history of the disease. A woman’s risk of breast cancer doubles if she has one first-degree relative with the disease and approximately triples with two first-degree relatives.
- Having a personal history of breast cancer. A woman who has had cancer in one breast has a higher chance of developing a new cancer in either the other breast or another part of the same breast.
- Being Caucasian. Caucasian women are more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women, but African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer.
- Having dense breast tissue. These women who have more glandular tissue than fatty tissue have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Having certain benign breast conditions. Depending on the type of benign breast condition, a woman’s risk for breast cancer can increase one and a half to two times, up to four to five times higher than average.
- Having more menstrual cycles. Women who started menstruating before age 12 or stopped after age 55 have an elevated breast cancer risk.
- Giving birth. Women who have had children have a lower risk of breast cancer. - Being overweight. Overweight women have a higher chance of developing breast cancer.

Women who are concerned about their risks for developing breast cancer should talk with their doctor to learn more about the disease. For more information on the services provided by Baptist Health System, go to

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