Breast Cancer Prevention

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

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What is the importance of early breast cancer detection?

The various types of cancers behave differently, with distinct rates of growth and patterns of spreading (metastasis) to other areas of the body. Some cancers are "favorable" and treatable, while others are highly aggressive.

Compared to other cancers, breast cancer is on the more treatable end of the spectrum if diagnosed early. It is considered a "favorable" cancer because it can be detected early by breast examination or by mammography. Pancreatic cancer, for example, is on the lethal end of the spectrum of cancers. Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to detect until it is very far advanced.

Studies have clearly shown that the smaller the size of the breast cancer when detected, the better the chance of a surgical cure and long-term survival. The likelihood of a cure is also higher if the cancer is removed before it has spread to lymph nodes and other organs such as the lungs, liver, bones, and brain.

Currently, mammography and breast examinations serve as the foundation for screening for breast cancer. It is extremely important for a woman to have regular breast examinations as well as mammograms to detect early breast cancer.

What are the advantages and limitations of mammography?

Mammography is an X-ray examination of the breast that has the ability to detect a cancer in the breast when it is quite small, long before it may be felt by breast examination. Approximately 85% to 90% of all breast cancers are detectable by mammography. Early detection by mammography has reduced the mortality rate from breast cancer by 20% to 30% in women over 50 years of age.

However, some 10% to 15% of breast cancers are not visible on mammography but can be felt on physical examination of the breast. Therefore, a normal mammogram does not exclude the possibility of breast cancer. Breast examination by a health-care professional by palpation and visual inspection is also important. During a routine physical checkup, a doctor can conduct an examination of the breast.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/21/2015
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