Breast cancer awareness monthBreast cancer awareness month gives us all an opportunity to raise awareness to the 2nd most common cancer in women, next only to skin cancer. Chances are you know someone that has been directly affected by this disease as one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Most of these cases will have a good prognosis and survive if found and treated early.

The majority of breast cancer cases are women, although men can also be diagnosed. According to the CDC, there are approximately 237,000 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer in women each year, and about 2,100 cases in men. Unfortunately, 41,000 women and 450 men will die each year in the United States from breast cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, while the average age that women are diagnosed is 61, and between 60 and 70 years old for men.

Know Your Risk Factors

Just being a female and aging are the two main risk factors for breast cancer, with other risk factors including:

  • Having your menstrual period before age 12
  • Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  • Starting menopause after the age of 55
  • Taking hormone replacement therapy for more than five years during menopause
  • Breast cancer present in a family member
  • Dense breasts or a personal history of breast cancer
  • History of radiation therapy to the chest or breasts
  • Carrying excess weight, especially post menopause
  • Changes in BRCA1 or BRCA2, breast cancer-related genes

If you have any risk factors along with symptoms, contact your doctor right away to discuss further steps such as screening and diagnostic tests. Some warning signs of breast cancer may include the following symptoms:

  • Newly developed lump in your underarm (armpit) or breast area
  • Irritation, thickening or swelling of the breast
  • Flaky skin, pulling or pain in the nipple area
  • Change in the shape or size of the breast
  • Breast pain or nipple discharge

Use the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool from the National Cancer Institute and learn more about breast cancer symptoms and signs from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Screening and Diagnostic Tests

Women should conduct self-breast examinations regularly, feeling for any unusual change or lump in their breast tissue or armpit area. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you notice anything unusual, and follow your doctor’s recommendation for obtaining further diagnostic testing such as a mammogram or MRI.

A mammogram is the first diagnostic tool of choice and uses x-ray imaging of the breast tissue to identify cancerous tissue, or rule out the presence of breast cancer. There may be times, however, that a mammogram does not reveal the images doctors need to see and an MRI may be ordered for additional diagnostic testing.

When is a Breast MRI Recommended?

MRI of the breast may be recommended in specific cases, although this evolving technology does not replace mammograms or self-breast exams. MRI produces hundreds of cross sectioned three-dimensional images with the use of magnets and radio frequency waves, with no exposure to radiation. A contrast agent is usually used to enhance the imaging of any masses or lesions. MRI has been shown to detect small lesions that can be missed with mammography, and is effective to image breast implants and dense breast tissue.

A Breast MRI may be recommended for women in a high risk category for breast cancer, or for further testing due to a recent breast cancer diagnosis. MRI of the breast is also used for guided biopsies, and to evaluate breast implants.

MRI of the breast should be performed in a facility with a specially designed MRI machine specifically for breast imaging and MRI guided biopsies. Greater Waterbury Imaging Center is a medical imaging facility located on the campus of Waterbury Hospital, with the proper equipment for MRI of the breast imaging.

Greater Waterbury Imaging Center is committed to providing a comfortable setting for your exam, quick service and accurate results by experienced radiologists. Contact us today to schedule your next imaging test and to learn more about the Breast MRI.