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frequently asked questions

1. Who gets breast cancer?

Breast Cancer is primarily a female disease, but approximately 1% of all cases of breast cancer occur in men. Breast cancer does not discriminate by race or age, however incidences do increase with age.

Any woman is at risk. While the risk increases with age, any one can get breast cancer at any age.

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2. Am I going to die?

Breast cancer is not the death sentence it once was due to early detection and medical advancements.

Breast cancer is a very treatable disease. When discovered early the survival rate is close to 100%.


3. What questions should I ask my doctor?

You should ask your doctor, what is my prognosis at this point? What treatment options are available to me? And, what are the best options for me personally?

Ask about all of the different surgical options, including reconstruction, if needed. Ask for information on the follow-up treatment needed for each of the different surgical options. Ask about the number of breast surgeries he/she has performed and a breakdown of mastectomy vs. lumpectomy he/she has performed. Ask any questions you may have-no question is a stupid question or will be considered "silly," when it comes to your health and welfare.

4. What are the risk factors?

The number one risk factor is being female. While family history, the age at the onset and completion of menstruation, the number of full term pregnancies, and prior history of benign breast biopsies are believed to increase your risk, the majority of breast cancers occur in women with NO risk factors.

Your chances of getting breast cancer increase with age. Additionally, the number of children you have, the age of your first pregnancy, the age of menstruation, family history, and whether or not other family members have had breast cancer, are all possible risk factors.

Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and stress, may also contribute.

5. What can I do to prevent breast cancer?

Early detection is the very best weapon against breast cancer. Although there is no known "prevention" you can increase your chances of beating breast cancer by leading a healthy lifestyle, performing routine self-breast exams, receiving a clinical breast exam, as recommended by your health care provider, and following guidelines for regular screening mammograms. Remember that early detection of breast cancer is almost 100% curable.

Early detection is the key!

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6. How can I best discuss my diagnosis with my husband and children?

Educate yourself first. Contact support groups for yourself and your family members. By knowing all the facts you will be better able to discuss your diagnosis with them. Talk openly and honestly, taking into consideration age appropriateness with children. It is your disease, but it will have effects on the whole family. 

7. At what age should I get a mammogram?

Advocate Health Care believes that proper breast health begins with an informed woman. National Organizations' Screening Recommendations are provided to help you make informed choices in taking care of your health.

8. How and when do I do a self-breast exam?

If premenopausal you should do a monthly self-breast exam at the end of your period. This is the time when your breasts are least fluid filled and tender, and women are more aware of their bodies at this time of the month. To learn to do a proper self-breast exam make an appointment with your health care provider or a MammaCare specialist who can coach you to determine if you are properly examining your breasts.

If postmenopausal choose a date each month that you will easily remember and consistently perform the self-breast exam at that time.

9. Will the mammogram hurt?

In order to achieve a quality film, compression must be applied to the soft tissues until firmness is reached. This compression may cause a few seconds of discomfort. However, a few women do find the procedure "painful." Some women also experience mild bruising or tenderness during and after the exam. If you find the procedure painful, ask the mammographer to stop and try making adjustments. Remember, the compression only lasts for about 30 seconds, and is the most important feature in acquiring a good image.

10. What do I need to do to prepare for a mammogram?

To prepare for your mammogram you should schedule your appointment after your period when your breasts are least sensitive. You should shower/bathe and NOT apply deodorant/powders/or lotions to the breast and underarm area as they may show up on the films. If your breasts are very sensitive you may wish to take Tylenol/Ibuprofen about one hour prior to your scheduled appointment time. Avoiding caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate) for several days prior to your appointment may also reduce the discomfort of the exam. Also, try to wear a two-piece outfit the day of your appointment, for your own convenience and comfort.

If you have had a mammogram at a different facility in the past, make sure to acquire those films for comparison, which will aid in the most accurate reading possible.

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11. What's the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram?

A screening mammogram is the best early detection measure available today. It consists of four films and is performed on a patient who is symptom free with no expected problems.

A diagnostic mammogram is performed on a patient with abnormal symptoms, or a prior abnormal screening mammogram. It consists of several different pictures where the breast may be compressed in different positions, or with different attachments, so that a closer look may be obtained.

Further work-up may be included.

12. I've just found a lump, now what do I do?

First, don't panic! Remember that 85-90% of breast lumps are NOT cancerous. Call your health care provider and discuss the lump with him/her and make an appointment to be examined as soon as possible.

13. What kind of breast cancer do I have, and what does this mean?

A pathology report based on your biopsy procedure will determine the type of breast cancer and its stage (degree of seriousness). These results will guide your physician in determining treatment options.

You may also want to speak with an oncologist.

14. How do I evaluate my treatment options?

Educate yourself using sources like Y-Me, the Internet, the American Cancer Society, and friends and family. Both the pro's and con's need to be discussed and weighed based on your personal life style.

Choose the option that best suits you, your lifestyle, and your expectations. YOU must be comfortable with the choices you make because what is right for one person is not right for all.

15. My doctor has given me a choice between a lumpectomy or mastectomy; how do I go about making my decision?

Become informed on the risks and benefits of each option. The follow-up care differs widely so learn everything you can about what will happen after the surgery. Each procedure has a different follow-up procedure and numerous cosmetic options. You must choose the procedure that bests suits you, your lifestyle, and your future expectations.

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16. What is radiation and chemotherapy?

Radiation and chemotherapy are two forms of treatment options used to treat various types of cancer, with or without surgical interventions.

Radiation therapy is used for local control of the disease. It uses a directed and controlled beam of radiation to treat the tissue surrounding the surgical site to destroy and leftover cancer cells that may remain.

Chemotherapy is used for distant disease control. It is a medication injected into the blood stream (and sometimes administered by mouth) to treat/destroy cancer cells that may have traveled through the system to remote parts of the body.

Sometimes only one of these treatments is used, sometimes they are used together, and sometimes patients do not need either one.

17. How does radiation therapy work? Will it hurt?

Radiation therapy uses a controlled, precise x-ray beam to deliver a measured amount of radiation to the tissue surrounding a cancer site following surgery. The purpose is to destroy any remaining microscopic cancer cells that may remain in the surrounding tissue. During the treatment you will not feel anything. Some women experience skin reddening and tenderness in the treatment area that may last for several weeks after treatment is complete.

Radiation therapy shrinks the tumor or tumor cells with measured doses of radiation to a specific site. It should be a painless treatment process.

18. What happens during radiation treatment?

During your initial visit you and your radiation oncologists will decide on a treatment site and a treatment plan. Subsequent visits are short, scheduled events with the patient lying quietly on a table to receive treatment. Your physician and appropriate staff members will monitor your progress.

You may also want to speak with an oncologist.

19. What are the side effects of treatment?

Side effects vary with individuals and treatment options. Some side effects may include hair loss, fatigue, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, skin pigment changes, and/or nipple tenderness.

You may also want to speak with an oncologist for specific side effects for individual treatment options.

20. I am going to have a mastectomy. What are my options for breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction options should be discussed BEFORE surgery. Various options are based on the type and stage of the cancer you have, as well as your overall health.

There are many options for reconstruction. Some use tissue from your own body, while others use a prosthesis or implant. Some can be performed at the time of your surgery, while others may need to performed at a later date. Your options will vary widely with the type of surgery, type of cancer, and follow-up treatment being used. Make an appointment with an experienced breast reconstructive surgeon, and discuss all of your options with him/her before your surgery date so that you can make an informed and comfortable decision.

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21. What is hormonal therapy, and why is my doctor recommending it?

Many breast cancers are estrogen dependent. It is felt that by using drugs to stop the body's natural production of estrogen, the chances of recurrence can be greatly decreased. Ask your doctor questions about the type of cancer you have and if it is responsive to estrogen. An informed decision is always easier to make.

22. Now that my treatment is over, what type of follow-up care is needed?

Generally, physicians will follow-up with a 6-month visit and exam. Annual exams will probably follow as long as no changes or problems are noted.

Follow-up care will vary widely with the type and stage of your cancer, and the surgery and treatment you received following surgery. Your doctor will map out a follow-up program with you, if you ask. Remember that early detection is still the key, so the most important thing you can do is become proficient at performing a self-breast exam. Make sure you continue to have a clinical breast exam and an annual mammogram, as recommended by your physician.

23. What if pain is still a problem? What can I do to control it?

The area and severity of pain should be discussed openly with your physician.

While there are many excellent pain medications available, they are not intended for long term use. Make an appointment with a pain clinic, or look into alternative therapies such as massage, meditation, yoga, or physical therapy and exercises that may strengthen the muscles and reduce the pain.

24. I'm scared that the cancer will come back. What can I do?

Again, early detection is the key! Continue to stay educated about recent breakthroughs in breast cancer. Remember to perform monthly self-breast exams, receive a clinical breast exam as recommended by your health care provider, and get an annual mammogram. Try and strive for a healthy, active lifestyle and include exercise, a balanced diet, and stress reduction techniques. Also, join a support group for friendship, continued support, and a place to voice your concerns and fears with others who are sharing the same journey as you!

And always, report any changes to your health care provider!

25. Who should I contact about specialty shops for my personal needs (wigs, prosthesis, and intimate apparel)?

Sources such as Y-Me, the American Cancer Society, and the Internet can help you in locating specialty stores and organizations. Also contact your hospital's cancer support group.

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