Breast Health Important for Women of All Ages

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By Rachel P. Dultz, MD

Nearly 300,00 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this
year, making it the most common cancer in women in the United States, except for skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

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What’s more, a recently released study found that the number of women under age
50 with breast cancer increased from 2010 to 2019, especially among women aged 30 to 39.

These statistics underscore the importance of overall breast health for all women whether they’re 25, 55 or 85.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an opportune time to talk to your doctor about breast health and screening for breast cancer.

The Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center (PMC) Breast Health Center and Center for Cancer Care provide preventive care and rapid diagnostic services to help patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer move quickly from testing to treatment.

Know Your Risks

When it comes to breast cancer, just being a woman puts you at risk. And while your risk increases as you age, a growing number of younger women are being diagnosed with breast cancer for reasons that aren’t yet clear.

Other risk factors for breast cancer include:

Family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Though it is important to note
that most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history
of the disease.

  • Changes in breast cancer-related genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2).
  • Having your first menstrual period before age 12.
  • Never giving birth or being older when your first child is born.
  • Beginning menopause after age 55.
  • Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen or progesterone in menopause for more than five years.
  • A personal history of breast cancer, dense breasts or some other breast problem.
  • Having radiation therapy to the breast or chest.
  • Being overweight, especially after menopause.
  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Smoking.

No matter how old you are, it is important to talk with your doctor about your risk for breast cancer.

Pay Attention to Changes

In many cases, breast cancer does not have symptoms until it becomes more advanced, making it especially important for women to know their breasts and pay attention to any changes.

If something does not feel or look right to you, see your doctor for an evaluation.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast 
  • Skin dimpling 
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction 
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collar bone.

Get Screened

Most women can survive breast cancer when it is found and treated early. In fact, there are more than four million breast cancer survivors across the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

A mammogram, which is a low-dose X-ray used to look inside the breast, can detect cancers when they are very small and still confined to the breast.

For women who are at average risk of breast cancer, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends women have a screening mammogram every year beginning at age 40.

If you have not started screening in your 40s, you should start having regular mammograms no later than age 50. Screening should continue until at least age 75.

In addition, for women who are at average risk of breast cancer and who do not have symptoms, ACOG suggests the following:

  • Clinical breast exam every 1–3 years for women aged 25–39 years.
  • Clinical breast exam every year for women aged 40 years and older.

Advancements in Screening and Therapy

The PMC Breast Health Center offers advanced breast cancer screening through digital tomosynthesis, commonly known as 3D mammography. This screening tool offers a clearer view of the breast compared with traditional 2D technology and is especially useful in detecting cancer in women with dense breasts.

Additionally, 3D mammography may lower the chance of being called back for follow-up testing and may also be able to find more cancers.

If an abnormality is detected through a mammogram, breast ultrasound and ultrasound guided biopsy are used for further evaluation and diagnosis.

Treatment for breast cancer varies from person-to-person and is increasingly more personalized and tailored to the specific cancer’s unique biological makeup. No two cancers are treated the same. Some may require surgery, while others may be treated with medication to block hormones that help cancer grow, targeted chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiation.

Understanding the options as well as risks and benefits, is a critical step in the treatment process.

Princeton Medical Center has earned national accreditation recognizing the excellence of its full spectrum of breast care, from preventive services such as mammography to the most advanced cancer treatments.

The Breast Health Center has been awarded three-year full accreditation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, a program administered by the American College of Surgeons.

The Breast Health Center has also been designated a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology, signifying that PMC meets the highest standards of the radiology profession.

Additionally, as part of Penn Medicine, experts at PMC work with teams at the Abramson Cancer Center, a world leader in cancer research, patient care, and education, to provide access to advanced diagnosis and treatment.

For more information about the Breast Health Center or to make an appointment, call (609) 853-7070 or visit www.princetonhcs.org.

Rachel P. Dultz, MD, is a fellowship trained breast surgical oncologist and board certified surgeon as well as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. She is the medical director of the Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center Breast Health Center.

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