Breast cancer: understanding the risks, symptoms, and ultimate prevention.

You’re more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than any other cancer (besides skin cancer). Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Thanks to earlier detection and increased awareness, breast cancer mortality rates have been significantly reduced. In fact, the rate of breast cancer deaths has decreased by 38% since 1990. That decline has been attributed, in large part, to annual screening mammograms. 

By being aware of your own risk factors for breast cancer and by doing this one simple thing each year, you can nearly eliminate your risk of dying.

Considering the risk factors for breast cancer. 

Studies have shown that there are many risk factors for breast cancer. If you are at risk, it does not mean you will develop breast cancer. 

Talk to your doctor about how you can lower your breast cancer risk factors. And if you are age 40 and older, it’s time to schedule annual screenings. Each year, during your mammogram appointment, a full assessment is done to determine if you have one or multiple risk factors. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, risk factors include: 

  • Age. The most common age for breast cancer diagnosis is 50+ years. The risk increases with age, in general. 
  • Personal history of breast cancer. Patients who have had breast cancer in the past are more likely to have breast cancer a second time.
  • Personal history of benign breast disease. Patients who have had non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Family history of breast cancer. The risk for breast cancer is higher if a first-degree relative or multiple family members have had breast cancer. 
  • Genetic predisposition. Women with inherited mutations to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are at greater risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
  • Early menstrual period. Due to lengthened exposure to hormones, the risk for breast cancer is increased slightly in women whose menstrual cycle began before the age of 12.
  • Late-onset of menopause. after age 55. Also due to lengthened exposure to estrogen hormones, starting menopause after age 55 is a risk factor. 
  • Late or no pregnancy. Women who have their first pregnancy after age 30 or who never have a full-term pregnancy are at greater risk than those who have a pregnancy at a younger age.
  • Inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Postmenopausal obesity. Those who are older and overweight are more likely to get breast cancer.
  • Combination hormone therapy. When taken together, for more than five years, estrogen and progestin therapy increases a patient’s risk. 
  • Oral contraceptives. Studies have shown that certain forms of birth control raise breast cancer risk.
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES). From 1940 to 1971 this drug was given to pregnant women as prevention for miscarriage. Both the women who took the drug and those whose mothers took DES while they were in utero are at risk.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy to the chest or breasts, such as treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, before age 30, are at increased risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
  • Alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. 
  • Smoking and exposure to chemicals. Research suggests that smoking and/or consistent exposure to chemicals increases the risk of breast cancer. 
  • Night shift. Patients who work the night shift as well as flight attendants who cross multiple time zones and have frequent circadian rhythm, disruptions are at increased risk for developing breast cancer.
  • Breast density. With more glandular and connective tissue relative to fatty tissue, those who have greater breast density have a higher risk of breast cancer.

What can I do to reduce my risk factors for breast cancer? 

  • Avoid smoking and exposure to chemicals. 
  • Limit alcohol consumption. 
  • Maintain a healthy diet and weight.
  • Stay active with regular exercise.
  • Get good rest. 
  • Reduce your exposure to radiation. 
  • Avoid certain forms of birth control.

Breast Cancer Symptoms 

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer do not typically appear when a tumor is small. The presence of a painless lump is the most common physical sign of breast cancer. The problem is, by the time a lump can be felt, the breast cancer may be advanced. When breast cancer reaches the invasive stages, growth can be rapid. 

A mammogram can show a mass before you can even feel it. For this reason, annual screening is crucial for early detection.

Other signs and symptoms of breast cancer: 

  • Breast pain or heaviness.
  • Changes, such as swelling, thickening, or redness of the skin.
  • Nipple abnormalities, such as spontaneous discharge (especially if bloody), erosion, or retraction. 
  • Patients who experience any persistent change in their breast(s) should immediately schedule an evaluation by their physician.

The #1 reason why your annual mammogram can save your life.

  • 1 in 8 women develop invasive breast cancer. 
  • It’s the most common cancer in women, second only to skin cancer. 
  • No signs or symptoms typically appear when the tumor is small. 
  • 75% of breast cancer occurs in women with no family history or other risk factors.
  • It’s the second leading cause of cancer death of women in the U.S. 
  • Average-risk women should start getting an annual mammogram at 40 years of age. 
  • Early detection increases treatment options and rate of survival.  

Annual mammograms were not always standard practice. Before regular screening mammography was a standard, cancers often went undetected until they were 2.5-3.5cm. Now, the average mass is under 1.5cm. What does that mean for you? 

According to Dr. Roni Talukdar, Medical Director at the Imaging Center for Women, “Size matters. If you detect it at under 1.5cm, there’s a 98%-99% survival rate. But when it’s over 1.5cm the survival rate drops to 70%.”

That’s why it’s so important to get a mammogram every year. The smaller the tumor, the greater the chance of survival. Finding the cancer earlier can ultimately mean the difference between life and death. 

“Plus, 75% of breast cancer occurs in someone with no family history of breast cancer,” Dr. Talukdar said. That means that women without a family history of breast cancer are still at risk.

Dr. Talukdar tells his patients, “It’s a 15-minute procedure, once a year, that could save your life. Why take that chance? It’s a small price to pay for your life.”

Mammogram screening guidelines 

What is the recommended mammogram age? 

Mammogram age, or the age at which you should begin getting regular mammograms, differs from patient to patient. Your doctor will determine when you should schedule your first mammogram based on your age, risk factors, and personal history. 

When Should You Start Getting Annual Mammograms?

If you are an average risk patient, you should start getting annual mammograms at age 40. If you have a family history, annual screening is recommended 10 years before your first-degree relative had breast cancer. For example, if your mom had breast cancer at age 40, you should start your preventative screening at age 30. 

What exactly is a mammogram? 

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breasts. Mammograms can detect breast cancer up to three years before a tumor can be felt during a breast exam. Without a cure for breast cancer, early detection is the very best defense.

I scheduled a mammogram. What should I expect?

After removing clothing from the waist up, you will stand in front of the mammography machine. The breast will then be positioned on a clear plastic plate for X-rays of the top and bottom, as well as the sides. While the plates flatten the breast in the optimal position for the X-ray, you will feel pressure. These steps will be repeated for both breasts. 

During your mammogram appointment, a full risk assessment will be done to determine if you are at increased risk for breast cancer. The entire process will be completed in about 15 minutes, unless the x-rays need to be redone. 

Do mammograms hurt?

The question is often asked, “Do mammograms hurt?” The truth is, having a mammogram can be uncomfortable. The size of the breasts and how much compression is required are both factors in how a mammogram feels.

However, the benefits far outweigh the discomfort. Yearly mammograms provide peace of mind with a higher survival rate.

“How long do mammograms take?” This might be your next question. Don’t worry! Within a few short moments, the mammogram will be over. 

Top 3 tips for your mammogram appointment: 

  1. If possible, do not schedule a mammogram the week prior to or during your period. Breasts can be tender or swollen during that time in the menstrual cycle.
  2. Do not apply deodorant, perfume, or powder on the day of your mammogram. Such products can appear as spots on the X-ray.
  3. Wear two-piece garments such as a top and pants or a skirt, rather than a dress. This will make it easier to undress from the waist up for the mammogram.

What should I do if my mammogram results are normal? 

A normal result is a baseline. If you have a normal result, it is recommended that you continue to receive annual mammograms so that your baseline can be used as a comparison. Changes in your breasts are detected and monitored by your radiologist year to year. 

What should I do if my mammogram result is abnormal? 

If you receive an abnormal result, it does not mean cancer was found. Your next step would be a diagnostic mammogram and further testing.

Mammograms in Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George

At Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg, we seek to serve our patients with the expertise of our Board Certified, Fellowship Trained Radiologists, using the very best technology, in easily accessible locations, at the greatest value in the region. 

When searching “mammograms near me”, you’ll find that Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg has a total of four convenient locations located throughout the Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George areas. You can save time by scheduling your mammogram at a location near your commute or close to home.

Imaging centers just for women. 

Celebrating over two decades of early detection, Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg is proud to offer mammograms to the Fredericksburg, North Stafford, and Spotsylvania areas with the highest quality service, the greatest value, and the most conveniently accessible locations. 

In order to provide the very best experience for women during their annual screening appointments, we have designed and opened an Imaging Center for Women in two locations: Fredericksburg and North Stafford. 

These state-of-the-art facilities provide a private, welcoming atmosphere where our staff is professional, compassionate, and attentive. With complimentary snacks and beverages, warm blankets, comfortable chairs, and enjoyable TV shows, you’ll find many of the comforts of home. We look forward to making your mammogram screening appointment a pleasant one. 

Imaging Center for Women 
1300 Hospital Dr., Suite 100 
Fredericksburg, VA 22408

Imaging Center for Women at North Stafford 
121 Woodstream Blvd., Suite 101
Stafford, VA 22556

Two additional locations for your convenience: 

Medical Imaging at Lee’s Hill
10401 Spotsylvania Ave., Suite 101
Fredericksburg, VA 22408

Medical Imaging of King George
11131 Journal Pkwy, Suite B
King George, VA 22485

Do not let the statistics scare you. Join the women in our community who choose early detection. Call Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg to schedule your mammogram today.