Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A time to learn about breast cancer risk factors and screening guidelines

By: Sarada Gummadi, MD
DHR Health Oncology Institute

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the second most common cancer in the world and the most common cancer in women worldwide, accounting for 25% of all incident cases of female cancers. Despite the medical advances made in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, it is still the leading cause of death for women. October is celebrated as a National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and DHR Health has made a commitment to support patients affected by breast cancer, recognize the seriousness of this condition and educate the public on proper screening measures. “As many of you know empowerment begins with knowledge, and together, we can illuminate the path toward early detection and proactive care,” said Dr. Lisa Chapa, Breast Surgeon at DHR Health Oncology Institute.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts and mainly occurs in middle-aged and older women. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Breast cancer happens when cells in your breast grow and divide in an uncontrolled way, creating a mass of tissue called a tumor. Like other cancers, breast cancer can invade and grow into the tissue surrounding your breast. It can also travel to other parts of your body and form new tumors. When this happens, it’s called metastasis.

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2023 are:

  • About 297,790 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 55,720 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) will be diagnosed.
  • About 43,700 women will die from breast cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Different people have different symptoms of breast cancer, while some do not have any signs or symptoms at all. It is important to know how your breasts normally look and feel to be able to recognize any changes that may occur. While knowing what to look for is important, regular mammograms and clinical breast exams are crucial, as these tests can help detect breast cancer before symptoms show.

Sign of breast cancer may include:

  • Lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
  • Swelling or thickening of all or part of the breast
  • Dimpling or skin irritation of breast skin
  • Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Any change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Pain in any area of the breast

How is breast cancer treated?

At DHR Health, we offer several breast cancer treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy. What’s right for you depends on many factors, including the location and size of the tumor, the results of your lab tests and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Your healthcare provider will tailor your treatment plan according to your unique needs. It’s not uncommon to receive a combination of different treatments as well.

Get Screened

It is recommended that women begin getting a screening mammogram every year after age 40. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray picture of the breast. Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance companies cover screening mammograms as part of routine preventive care. “If you are uninsured or underinsured, the DHR Health Women’s Imaging Center offers a $99 mammogram screening special throughout the month of October,” said Melissa Pena Flores, Vice President of Imaging Services.

Women should conduct a self-breast exam every month after the age 20. This will allow you to become more familiar with the contours and feel of your breasts and will be more alert to changes.

It is important to have your breasts examined by a healthcare provider at least once every three years after age 20, and every year after age 40. Clinical breast exams can detect lumps that mammograms may not find.

Statistics have found that early detection of breast cancer can improve a woman’s chance of survival and mammograms are the best tool to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. However, if you are at high risk for developing breast cancer, you may be advised to start getting screened sooner. Depending on your family history, your physician may recommend genetic testing to evaluate your risk further. Women should ask their healthcare provider if and when a mammogram or genetic testing is right for them.

The good news is that there are several things you can do to help lower your risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Keep a healthy weight and exercise regularly.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or limit the amount of alcohol you do drink.
  • If you are taking hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills, ask your doctor about the risks.
  • Breastfeed your baby/babies, if possible.
  • If you have a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, talk to your doctor about other ways to lower your risk.

Comprehensive Care at DHR Health

DHR Health offers specialist in Medical Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Reconstructive / Plastic Surgery and Genetic Testing. The DHR Health Surgical Institute offers a team of breast cancer surgeons dedicated to treating patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are the only nationally accredited program for breast centers (NAPBC) in south Texas. This accreditation reflects DHR Health’s’ rigorous adherence to the highest standards of care, providing the most advanced and comprehensive breast cancer treatments available.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can feel scary, overwhelming and even hopeless. If you or a loved one is facing this disease, it is important that you talk to your healthcare provider about your treatment options. “At DHR Health, we are here to support your first steps on this challenging path, while ensuring you understand your treatment plan, and helping make this process as seamless as possible,” said Anabel Arellano – Rodriguez, DHR Health Director Patient Relations / Business Development for the Oncology Institute.

Get Informed, Get Support

If you or a loved one is seeking information about breast cancer, DHR Health is here to help. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact the DHR Health Oncology Institute at 956-362-2250 or the DHR Health Surgical Institute at 956-362-8170. Our experts are ready to provide guidance, support, and comprehensive care every step of the way.