I sat in the waiting room, the pink top they gave me to wear was tied tightly around the side so as not to reveal anything. The room was filled with other women adorned in matching tops. One-by-one they went into the rooms designated for mammograms, and one-by-one they came out. Did they notice I hadn’t moved yet? I wonder when they will call my name? It has to be soon. It feels like I have been sitting in this place forever. I wonder if this will hurt? How long until I have the results? I hope whatever it is — that it’s benign.
For some, this is a familiar story. Whether a personal diagnosis, or the diagnosis of a loved one, many of us know someone whose life has been affected by breast cancer.
As women, we are taught early on the importance of breast self-examination and the necessity of annual mammograms for those who are 40 and over. We don’t learn these things to scare us, but because we understand the importance of early detection.
According to breastcancer.org, about one in eight U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. The website also states that “besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2019, it’s estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.”
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have asked Dayton OB-GYN Kamlesh Sanghvi, MD — who has had a private practice for more than 30 years after a double residency and double board certifications — to answer some questions, with the hopes of relaying the importance of being proactive and taking the necessary steps for early breast cancer detection and prevention.
Is there anything women can do to help decrease their chance of breast cancer?
Let us not get confused by prevention and early cancer detection. If there is sufficient family or personal history, women can go for genetic counseling and, if high risk, can consider prophylactic chemotherapy, or mastectomy. Women who are considered high risk may benefit from annual mammograms and MRI evaluation, as well as physical examinations by physicians every six months. Early detection for an average-risk woman will include annual mammograms starting at age 40, annual physical exams with breast exam and self-breast exams monthly. Depending on the risk factors, mammograms may start at an earlier age. Also, there is some concern that the use of hormone replacement therapy after menopause may increase the risk of breast cancer.
Are all breast lumps potentially cancerous?
No. Benign lumps are more common than cancer, especially in premenopausal women. However, each lump needs to be evaluated before writing it off as benign. Even young women can have breast cancer, so if you notice a change, do not ignore it. Generally, for younger women, most lumps tend to be benign. But if it is cancer, it tends to be more aggressive.
Is breast cancer genetic?
Some breast cancers are genetic and also may increase the risk of other associated cancers in women, as well as in men.
Do you recommend genetic testing?
Genetic counseling and testing is an advancing field with promising contribution to breast health. Women can have genetic testing done if there is significant family history. Even if the test comes back negative, because we do not know what the future holds with genetic testing and they are finding more and more genes that are abnormal, you can still have an increased risk based on family history alone. If the blood test comes back positive, the patient will know there is an increased risk.
What else should women know?
Some women raise concern about the risk of radiation from annual mammograms. Generally, the benefits significantly outweigh the risks. Prevention and early detection is the key to saving lives. New 3D technology may further help early detection, as well.
My results did come back benign, but I know that isn’t the case for everyone. The earlier cancer is caught, the better the prognosis. Please be sure to perform your self-exams and schedule your yearly mammograms when the time comes. Let’s be proactive with our health and encourage one another in the fight against breast cancer.