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Instead, young women should do a monthly breast self-examination starting at age 20 to look for abnormal changes such as breast lumps or nipple discharge.

Q: What if the mammogram finds an abnormality?

Most changes detected on a mammogram are not cancer. However, if an abnormality is found, a breast specialist will evaluate the patient’s medical history and risk of breast cancer, perform a clinical breast exam, and review the mammogram.

Doctors usually do additional mammograms, especially in areas that are abnormal. An ultrasound of the breast may also be done to see if a biopsy is needed.

It’s important to note that 80% of breast lumps are not cancer.

Benign disorders such as fibroadenomas and cysts are especially common in premenopausal women.

However, if you find a lump in your breast, see your doctor for more tests.

Q: Can a benign lump become malignant?

This is rare. Cancer occurs when cells within a breast gland or duct grow abnormally and uncontrollably, forming a tumor that invades adjacent (or surrounding) normal tissue. These malignant tumors range from as small as a few millimeters to as large as 10-15 cm.

If a suspicious mass is detected, a needle biopsy is usually recommended to obtain tumor tissue for laboratory examination and diagnosis.

Q: What are the treatments for breast cancer?

Treatment plans are individualized because the treatment of breast cancer depends on the subtype of cancer, how far the cancer has spread, and the age of the patient.

Surgery is usually done to completely remove the tumor. If the tumor is small, the cancer may be removed along with the rim of breast tissue. Known as a lumpectomy, this type of surgery doesn’t lose your breast.

However, a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) may be done if the cancer is particularly large or if there are multiple areas of cancer in the same breast. Women may choose to have breast reconstruction after surgery, which can usually be done in the same sitting position.

Surgical removal of some lymph nodes in the armpit (sentinel lymph node biopsy) may be necessary to check for spread of breast cancer cells to the lymph nodes.

Doctors may also prescribe chemotherapy, which uses drugs to attack cancer cells. This can be done before or after surgery, depending on the tumor subtype.

A third type of therapy is targeted therapy, which targets specific features of cancer cells, such as genes or proteins, to stop the cancer from growing.

Radiation therapy is another way high-energy x-rays kill cancer cells. Women who have had a lumpectomy require radiation therapy to the whole breast to reduce the chance that the cancer will come back in the breast.

Hormone therapy uses drugs to block the production of estrogen or the effect of estrogen on cancer cells and to keep hormone-sensitive breast cancers from growing.

Finally, immunotherapy can be used as a treatment for some cases of advanced triple-negative breast cancer. This stimulates the body’s immune system to fight off cancer cells. Mammograms: Your Best Defense in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

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