Breast cancer deaths decline with early diagnosis

Thursday, March 9, 2017 1:03 PM

Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In fact, about 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is only about 1 in 1,000.

In 2016, an estimated that over 245,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed, along with 61,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer in women in the U.S. About 40,450 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2016 from breast cancer. Although these statistics seem high, actual death rates have been decreasing. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.

Breast cancer typically starts from different parts of the breast. Most common breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple, or the cells of the glands that make breast milk (i.e., lobules). It’s important to understand that not all breast lumps are cancer. However, any breast lump or change in your breast needs to be checked by a health care provider.

The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and growing older. Other risk factors include the use of hormone replacement therapy and ethnicity. In fact, in women under 45, breast cancer is more common in African-American women compared to Caucasian women. Although most breast cancers occur in women who have no family member diagnosed with it, a woman’s risk of breast cancer doubles if she has a mother, sister, or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Most (85-90 percent) breast cancers are due to genetic, not inherited, abnormalities that happen as a result of the aging process. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common abnormality inherited from your parents. On average, women with a BRCA1 mutation have a 55-65 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. For women with a BRCA2 mutation, the risk is 45 percent.

Breast cancer: symptomsBreast cancer symptoms can vary widely. Some commonly noted symptoms include a lump in the breast, bloody discharge from the nipple, and changes in the shape or texture of the nipple or breast. Importantly, many breast cancers may have no obvious symptoms at all. Symptoms that are similar to those of breast cancer may be the result of non-cancerous conditions like infection or a cyst.

Early Detection: screening and diagnosisRegular screening can often find breast cancer early before any symptoms can develop. The earlier the breast cancer is found, the easier and more likely the tumor can be treated successfully, with nearly 98 percent of women surviving breast cancer as a result of receiving a preventative screening. Common Screening tests include yearly mammograms that are given routinely to women over 40 or at a high risk for the disease in combination with a physical exam by a doctor. If a woman has a family history of breast cancer, she should talk to her doctor about beginning screening at an earlier age. It is now recommended that women have a breast physical exam by a health professional every year It is also recommend that all women routinely perform monthly breast self-exams as part of their overall breast cancer screening strategy. If you experience breast changes you should visit your doctor. Although 20 percent of the time, breast cancers is found by physical examination rather than by mammography, not every cancer can be found this way. Therefore it remains important for women to visit their health professional on a regular basis.

If these imaging studies along with physical exams of the breast, lead doctors to suspect that a person has breast cancer, a sample of tissue from the suspicious area(s) needs to be removed (i.e. biopsy) and examined under a microscope. This will determine whether or not breast cancer is present and, if so, whether or not it has traveled outside the breast. Overall, diagnostic tests also are used to gather more information about the cancer to guide decisions about treatment.

Since many women face barriers in taking care of their own health and partaking in necessary cancer preventive screening, a statewide program called Women’s Wellness Connection program ( or call 970-564-2315) can provide free breast cancer screening and diagnostic tests to women (40-64 years of age) that do not have insurance or can not afford their deductible or co-pay.

Breast Cancer: TreatmentsTreatment depends on the stage of cancer. Many different treatment options are available and include various chemotherapy agents that are designed to kills cells that are growing or multiplying too quickly, radiation therapy that uses x-rays or other high- energy rays to destroy cancer cells and surgery. Some surgical options include: Lumpectomy (i.e.surgical removal of a lump in the breast), Mastectomy (i.e. surgical removal of some or all of the breast) or Lymphadenectomy (i.e. surgical removal of a lymph node.). If you are facing breast cancer, you and your doctors can help you formulate a treatment plan tailored just for you.

For more information, contact your primary care provider or call 970.516.1616 to establish care. Dr. Bellows and Dr. Matteson of Southwest Medical Group, General Surgery, are both skilled in caring for patients with skin or soft tissue lesions and diseases of the breast, including breast cancer.