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Something is Wrong with my Breasts: Where Do I start?

Checking for breast cancer is something everyone should know how to do, whether you are a woman or a man. Taking a small amount of time to learn the signs of breast cancer can save a life.

Current breast cancer statistics for the United States estimate that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. However, contrary to popular perceptions, men are not immune. Although their chances of developing breast cancer are substantially lower, about 1 in 883 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. If you are of African descent or have an immediate family member who was diagnosed, then your likelihood of developing a cancerous growth increases by a marked margin.

The Importance of Awareness

Given this information, all people should be checking for breast cancer with regular self-examinations. These should be supplemented with mammograms starting at the age of 45. If you have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors, recent research shows that you may consider having them as early as age 30. In fact, the American College of Radiology began advocating in 2018 for all women to begin regular screenings at an earlier age due, in part, to the fact that 990 women under the age of 40 died as a result of invasive breast cancer in 2017 alone.

In between medical examinations, conducting monthly self-examinations could help you identify potential problems long before it is time for your next mammogram. The National Breast Cancer Foundation cites that 40% of all breast cancer cases are actually identified during a self-examination, a statistic established by Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

Checking for breast cancer can be done in different ways. You may choose to perform a self-examination in the shower, in front of a mirror, or lying down. Each approach has different merits, so performing all three is in your best interest. You can find a comprehensive guide here. Essentially, the key is to get to know your own breast tissue before something happens. That way you can recognize an anomaly for what it is. Make sure to check the breast tissue that wraps under the arm to your back as well.

If You Find Something While Checking for Breast Cancer

Remember that your first symptom of breast cancer won’t always be a lump. The symptoms can present as discharge, discoloration, or even a dimpling in the skin. If you do identify any of these potential symptoms, then the first thing you need to do is make a doctor’s appointment, sooner rather than later. Days really can matter when it comes to cancer.

Fortunately, 8 out of 10 breast cancer lumps are completely benign. The point is to be sure your new lump isn’t part of that dangerous 20%. Getting the truth can seem daunting for some people. However, either way, an immediate doctor’s visit is the best thing you can do for yourself. Either it will give you peace of mind, or it will give you an increased chance of survival.

At Your Doctor’s Office

Once your physician is apprised of your concerns, there will be a physical examination. If you’re uncomfortable with a member of the opposite sex touching your breasts, then you should book an appointment with someone who you will feel comfortable with. The step after an initial physical examination is imaging. They will typically do a mammogram and a breast ultrasound when checking for breast cancer. Don’t be surprised if an MRI or other scan is also suggested by your doctor. If it is not clear that all potential lumps are benign, then there will be a biopsy to definitively tell whether you need to be treated for breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Treatment

If you are part of the unlucky 20%, then don’t lose heart. The “5-year survival rate for women with invasive breast cancer is 90%” according to statistics approved by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. However, that survival rate is based on swift and decisive action by you and your medical team.

1. Surgery

The first step is inevitably surgery. The Breast Health Institute of Houston offers both breast conservation surgery as well as more radical approaches depending on the stage of your cancer. The more radical approach comes in the form of a mastectomy, but you’ll find that there are many different levels available to you depending on your circumstances and comfort level. In some cases, Dr. Miltenburg may suggest a more radical surgery than you are immediately comfortable with. Remember, it is important to trust her expertise. Her primary goal is to save your life.

2. Therapy

Immediately afterward, you will begin either radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy is generally reserved for early-stage cases and has localized effects.

Chemotherapy is more intense, but Dr. Miltenburg will help you prepare for its effects prior to starting treatment. You should know that your immune system and appetite will be suppressed, so you will need to take extra care to avoid those who are sick or unvaccinated and make sure you’re receiving adequate nutrition. Therapy typically lasts from 4 to 6 months but varies depending on individual case factors.

Hopefully, at this stage, you’ll be cancer-free. You may consider breast reconstruction surgery if it suits you. To learn more about checking for breast cancer and breast cancer treatment in Houston, contact Dr. Miltenburg today.

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Houston Breast Cancer Surgeon

Darlene M. Miltenburg MD, FRCS(C), FACS
Call US 713-795-0161
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