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Breast Cancer FAQs

Answers FAQ

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP on April 10, 2018

Take the Breast Cancer Quiz First! Before reading this FAQ, challenge yourself and
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Q:A lump in the breast is almost always cancer. True or false?

A:False.

Most breast lumps are benign (not cancerous). The main types of non-cancerous breast lumps are fibrosis (large amounts of fibrous breast tissue) and cysts (fluid-filled sacs). If you notice any breast lumps or other changes in one of your breasts, see a doctor.

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Q:How often do doctors recommend breast self-exams?

A:Monthly breast self-exams used to be recommended. However, research shows there was little evidence these helped detect breast cancer earlier.

The current American Cancer Society recommendation is that women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and should see a doctor if they notice any changes.

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Q:Risk for breast cancer can be inherited. True or false?

A:True.

Women with a strong family history of breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease. The risk for developing breast cancer is doubled if you have a first-degree female relative (mother, sister, daughter) with the disease. If two first-degree family members have been diagnosed, the risk increases to five times.

In addition there is an abnormal gene associated with a high risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) that may be inherited. An abnormal CHEK2 gene may also be associated with developing breast cancer. Breast cancer associated with an inherited abnormal gene tends to develop at an earlier age (under age 40) and it is also associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

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Q:Breast cancer starts because abnormal cells grow out of control. True or false?

A:True.

Cancer is, by definition, caused when abnormal cells begin to grow out of control. Normal cells divide in an orderly way and eventually die out, with new cells taking their place. Cancer cells continue to grow and make new cells, crowding out the normal, healthy cells. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body (metastasize), which normal cells cannot do.

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Q:What is the most common form of breast cancer?

A:IThe most common form of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), accounting for about 80% of all breast cancer diagnoses.

This type of breast cancer begins in the milk duct of the breast and eventually infiltrates the fatty or fibrous tissue of the breast. The cancer cells then have the potential to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

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Q:Benign tumors in the breast are capable of metastasis. True or false?

A:False.

Benign tumors are not considered to be a form of cancer and therefore do not metastasize. They have not acquired the capability of uncontrolled growth like malignant tumors, and they cannot grow into (invade) other tissues. Benign tumors typically do not recur after they have been surgically removed.

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Q:What are some breast cancer risk factors?

A:

Lifestyle risk factors for breast cancer that you can change include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not having children or having the first child after age 30
  • Physical inactivity
  • Use of some hormonal birth control
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause, particularly estrogen and progesterone (combined hormone therapy or HT)

Other risk factors for breast cancer (things you cannot change):

  • Being a woman
  • Age over 55
  • Inherited genes, including BRCA1 and BRCA2 and others
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Having dense breast tissue
  • White women are overall slightly more likely to develop breast cancer, but African-American women are more likely to develop breast cancer under age 45
  • Certain benign breast conditions
  • Early onset of menstruation (before age 12)
  • Menopause after age 55
  • Radiation to the chest

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Q:California has the highest concentration of breast cancer in the U.S. True or false?

A:False.

According to the State Cancer Profiles tool, which is a collaborative effort between the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute, The District of Columbia, (Washington, D.C.) as the highest rate of breast cancer in the U.S., with nearly 153 out of every 100,000 women diagnosed with the disease annually.

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Q:Which state has the lowest prevalence of breast cancer throughout the U.S.?

A:The U.S. state with the lowest incidence of breast cancer is Arkansas, with only about 106 breast cancer cases per 100,000 women each year.

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Q:Breast pain is a common symptom of breast cancer. True or false?

A:False.

Breast pain is not a common symptom of breast cancer. Sometimes, breast cancers are found by screening when they are very small and do not produce symptoms. When they do cause symptoms, a mass or lump in the breast is the most common symptom. Other possible symptoms of breast cancer are skin irritation, redness, dimpling, and thickening; retraction of the nipple; nipple discharge, and swelling of all or part of the breast.

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Q:You or someone you know has found a lump in the breast. Now what?

A:Once a lump is found, the best thing to do is to make an appointment with a doctor.

As stated before, most breast lumps or masses are not cancer. Lumps in the breast may be related to the menstrual cycle in younger women and may even come and go depending on the cycle. But it is always best to have any lump checked out by a health care provider.

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