(This post was originally posted on October 2019, it has been updated with new and updated information.)
We want all our patients to know and understand how important breast health is, and how you can detect breast cancer early, when it is more treatable and beatable.
We also wanted this time to serve as a reminder that the keys to early detection are breast self-exams, clinical breast exams and regular mammograms.
What Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
Celebrated every October, this month is used to raise awareness of the impact of breast cancer, including signs and symptoms and general education about the disease. It’s also the perfect time to recognize and honor breast cancer survivors and lend support to those who are currently fighting the disease.
What Are the Five Types of Breast Cancer?
While there are many subcategories and variations, in general, breast cancer falls into four main categories:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ
- Invasive ductal carcinoma
- Inflammatory breast cancer
- Metastatic breast cancer
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ
This non-invasive cancer is highly treatable because it is in its earliest stages. In this case, the abnormal breast cells are found in the lining of the breast milk duct. However, the cancer hasn’t spread to any surrounding tissue. The key to successful treatment is to catch this cancer before it spreads to surrounding tissue.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
In this case, the cancer has spread beyond the milk ducts into other parts of the breast. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, this is the most common type of breast cancer, and it is responsible for almost 80 percent of all cases.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
This highly aggressive form of breast cancer typically does not start with a tumor or lump. Instead it impacts breast skin and lymph vessels.
Metastatic Breast Cancer
This is often referred to as Stage 4 breast cancer, where the cancer has spread from the breast to affect other systems in the body.
Lobular Breast Cancer
This type of cancer begins in the milk-producing lobules or glands of the breast.
What Are the Different Types of Treatments for Breast Cancer?
Researchers have discovered that breast cancer can be narrowed down into several different subtypes in addition to the four main types of breast cancer, and each of these responds differently to specific treatments. These include:
Hormone receptor positive (HR) breast cancers
These are most effectively treated with hormone therapies. These HR cancers contain an estrogen receptor (ER) and/or a progesterone receptor (PR).
Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) positive
These cancers have excessive amounts of HER2 protein. Once it’s determined if the proteins are positive or negative, tailored treatments can be crafted.
Triple-negative breast cancer
This type of cancer does not have ER, PR or HER2.
Ultimately, these discoveries enabled health care professionals to more specifically target the subtype of cancer with the type of treatment that will be most effective, creating new methods that are specifically aimed at these types of cancers.
In addition, the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) has examined the intense molecular diversity of breast cancer, and in the future, it will be used to identify even more cancer subtypes.
What Is the Deadliest Breast Cancer?
Triple-negative breast cancer grows and spreads faster than other forms. Because it doesn’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors, it’s harder to treat. This is more common in women who are younger than 40 or African-American.
Accounting for 10 to 15 percent of all breast cancers, it’s also seen in those who have a BRCA1 mutation.
What Are the Odds of Surviving Breast Cancer?
If detected early, breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of 90 percent. This means that over a period of five years, women who have had breast cancer are 90 percent as likely as women who don’t have cancer to live at least five years after being diagnosed.
You can read more about survival rates for the different stages of cancer on this page from the American Cancer Society.
We draw inspiration from several women who have successfully fought breast cancer. One of these women is our own Amy Tretola. Check out our blog to learn more about her victorious story.
How Do I Give Myself a Breast Test?
The ideal time to conduct your breast self-exam is three to five days after your period starts.
Typically, this is the time of month when your breasts are not as lumpy or tender.
If you don’t have a period due to menopause, then you should also make sure your exam is done on the same day each month.
Many women have lumpy breasts, and it’s important to get a feel and understanding of what your breasts feel like. This will help you detect any abnormalities or problems.
Any time you feel something that is out of the ordinary, we want you to contact us. We can schedule an appointment that same week.
We know finding a lump is frightening, and we don’t want you to have a long wait for an appointment.
What Is The Best Position for a Breast Self-Exam?
We suggest you conduct your exams by lying on your back because this makes it easier to thoroughly examine all breast tissue. With one hand behind your head, use the middle fingers of your other hand to firmly, yet gently use small motions to examine your entire breast.
We suggest you use either an up and down motion, a circular motion or a pattern that examines your breast from the outside toward the nipple.
Switch sides and repeat the process to examine the other breast. Make sure you are completely covering all the breast tissue.
Things You May Not Know About Breast Self-Exams
Check under your arms
Did you know that you should also feel your armpits when doing self-exams?
Some breast tissue goes into that area, so don’t leave it out when you’re feeling for lumps.
Examine your nipples as well as your breasts
You should also carefully look at your nipples when performing an exam. Gently squeeze them to make sure there is no discharge, and be sure to contact us if your nipples are turning inward.
These can be signs of breast cancer.
Don’t overlook skin texture
Do you evaluate your skin texture during your self-exams? Please let us know if you see signs such as:
- Any skin texture changes
- Any part on your skin that looks like an orange peel
Evaluate the shape of your breasts
Do you check the shape or outline of each breast? Be sure to note any changes.
It’s not unusual to have asymmetrical breasts, but in some cases, it could indicate a problem. If you have questions about the shape of your breasts, please ask us.
Breast Health Services in Chapel Hill
While breast self-exams are very important, every woman should also have regular clinical breast exams and mammograms.
During a clinical breast exam, we’ll check your breasts for any abnormalities.
After discussing your personal and your family medical history, we’ll make a recommendation for how often you should have mammograms. Mammograms after age 40 can help detect breast cancer, however, you may need to have one earlier depending upon your family and personal medical history. In certain high-risk populations, MRIs may even be used.
At Every Stage of Your Life: We’re With You on Your Journey
Whether you are having your first Pap smear or you’re entering menopause, we want you to know that we’re with you throughout your journey. We have helped couples who struggled with infertility and have welcomed hundreds of new lives into the world.
Most importantly, we want you to know that we are always available to answer your questions about breast cancer and your breast health.
We want to emphasize if you notice a lump or even something that is different from how your breasts typically feel, please contact us at 919-883-9763 .
For more than 40 years, Chapel Hill OBGYN has served patients in the Triangle area, sharing the joy of little miracles and supporting them during challenges. Our board-certified physicians and certified nurse midwives bring together the personal experience and convenience of a private practice with the state-of-the-art resources found at larger organizations. To schedule an appointment, please contact us for more information.