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Answers to the Top 10 Common Breast Cancer Questions

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 5/26/2011

If you are wondering if that lump in your breast is benign or malignant, it's time to stop wondering and get some answers to the most common breast cancer questions. Let's take a look at some of these frequently asked questions (FAQs,) and see when it's time to get a doctor's opinion.

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    Of all the major diseases that can strike a women, the risk of breast cancer is probably one of the scariest - who wants to even contemplate having a breast removed? Furthermore, most know someone who has been stricken with this type of cancer.

    Breast Se741px-Breast self-exam NCI visuals online lf-Exam Visual/Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Fortunately, modern technology offers many pain-free ways to do screening mammograms, and new cancer treating drugs are being discovered and approved rapidly. Let's examine some of the most common breast cancer questions and separate the truths from the myths.

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    Breast Cancer Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Numbers 1 to 5

    Let's start by answering the first five questions women have about breast cancer.

    1. Must I have my breast removed?

    This is probably the number one frequently asked questions (FAQs) women have about breast cancer. Due to the disfigurement that occurs from a mastectomy, it is a real fear and cause for concern. While the ultimate decision lies with the treating physician, women can take comfort from knowing that lumpectomy, radiation treatment, or mastectomy offer equal survival rates.

    2. How would l I know if I have breast cancer, and what are some common symptoms?

    En Breast cancer illustrations Common Symptoms of Breast Cancer/Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Doctors use many methods, like diagnostic screenings and biopsies, to diagnose breast cancer, and your safest bet is to consult your doctor immediately if you notice any of the following:

    • Any lump in the breast
    • Breast swelling, redness, tenderness, or pain
    • Enlarged lymph nodes

    3. What’s the best treatment for breast cancer?

    At the time of this writing, cancer experts agree traditional cancer treatments, like lumpectomy, radiation, or mastectomy, give patients an equal chance of survival. Lumpectomies avoid the disfigurement that comes with mastectomies. The diagnosing doctor recommends the type of treatment that best suits each individual case.

    4. My doctor wants to do an axillary dissection. What is that, and why would he order it?

    This type of dissection is done to remove fat layers so they can be examined microscopically for cancer cells. Doctors typically order axillary dissections when cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, but because body fat is concealing the nodes, they are unable to determine the extent of the cancer cell’s spread.

    5. What’s this lump in my breast and should I be worried?

    Breast self-exam FDA4 Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Most women notice a lump in their breasts at some time in their life. If you are performing your monthly breast examinations, a lump will not take you by surprise, and is not necessarily a cause for alarm. According to information from the Fox Chase Cancer Center, “80% of lumps are non-cancerous." Having said that, to be absolutely safe and make re you are not in the 20% range with a lump that is cancerous, your safest option is to consult with your doctor immediately, as he may want to perform a breast biopsy.

    Now, let's answer five more questions you may have about this type of cancer.

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    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Breast Cancers Number 6 to 10

    6. My mom, my sister, and my aunt are all breast cancer survivors. What are the odds I will get it, too?

    Referring again to information from the Fox Chase Cancer Center, and other genetic research, typically one in ten women will inherit the abnormal gene for breast cancer. It is always best to talk to your doctor about any abnormalities in your breast.

    7. What is Tamoxifen?

    800px-Tamoxifen Raloxifen nci-vol-2738-300 Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Marketed under the name “Nolvadex," Tamoxifen is an effective treatment for cancers that are caused or exacerbated by estrogen positive receptors.

    8. What types of prescription medications are approved for breast cancer treatment?

    Currently, the following types of medications are FDA approved for treatment:

    • Selective estrogen receptor modulators:Evista, and Fareston.
    • Aromatase inhibitors: Cytadren, Arimidex, Femara or Novartis, and Aromasin
    • Progestins: Megace, and Provera
    • FDA accelerated approval, 01/29/2010: Tykerb (lapatinib)

    9. What is a chemotherapeutic agent?

    The University of Sioux Falls defines a chemotherapeutic agent as “chemical substances used for the treatment of infectious diseases or the prevention of diseases." This includes SERMs, aromatase inhibitors, and progestins.

    10. What are the guidelines for the frequencyMammogram y of mammograms? Is there any way to have a pain-free mammogram?

    Image Credit/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    The American Cancer Society guidelines for mammograms are “yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health." New technology, like digital breast imaging and breast ultrasounds, offer a more comfortable way for women to have screening mammograms. Ask your doctor if this technology is available in your area. You may also want to ask about a breast cancer dipstick test.

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    The answers to these 10 most common questions about breast cancer probably answered most of your questions, but if you need more information, a good place to start is with the American Cancer Society, or by asking your doctor for some reference material. With regular screenings, monthly breast self-exams, and early detection and treatment, most women have an excellent chance of avoiding or surviving breast cancers.

    For more information on alternative and natural ways to treat or avoid breast cancer, read "Foods to Fight Breast Cancer," or "How to Prevent Breast Cancer Naturally."

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    Reference Sources

    U.S. Food & Drug Administration, “What’s New from the Office of Oncology Drug Products," 2010, accessed 08/14/2010

    American Cancer Society, “American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer," accessed 008/14/2010

    Fox Chase Cancer Center, “Frequently Asked Questions About Breast Cancer," accessed 08/14/2010

    University of Cincinnati, Net Wellness, “Breast Cancer FAQs," accessed 08/14/2010

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