Early Breast Cancer Detection
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women and it is the second leading cause of cancer death, after lung cancer. However, when detected early, breast cancer is very treatable. In recent years, the early detection of breast cancer has saved the lives of thousands of women across the United States.
Virginia Hospital Center encourages women to be actively involved in monitoring their own health and taking preventive measures against breast cancer. Read more
Regular Breast Exams & Mammograms
Women over age 20 should be aware of the warning signs and risk factors for breast cancer. Through breast self-examination (BSE), clinical breast examination (CBE) by your doctor and mammography, breast cancers are being detected earlier than ever before. Learn more
Many women who have gone through menopause find performing an exam every month on a certain day helpful. If you still menstruate, the best time to do it is five days after the start of your period.
Breast self-exams are NOT a substitute for mammography or examination by a clinician, however.
Regular breast examinations and mammograms continue to be the best ways to detect breast cancer, and should be performed according to the American Cancer Society screening guidelines listed below.
Virginia Hospital Center follows the guidelines of the American Cancer Society in recommending:
- Yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
- Clinical breast exam (CBE) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
- Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. The number of women who fall into this category is small: less than 2% of all women in the United States. Talk with a doctor about your history and whether you should have other tests or start testing at an earlier age.
Uncovering Breast Cancer Risk Through Genetic Testing
“People are scared to have genetic testing because they don’t understand. They think of it as a death sentence. Instead, it’s information you can act on. We have very good data that can help you make decisions that will alter your risk and improve your health in general. People are also fearful they will lose insurance if they are found to have a genetic mutation. This is simply not true.”
— Patricia Rodriguez, MD, Chief of Oncology at Virginia Hospital Center
“A growing number of young women are having bilateral mastectomies to treat cancer and to address their genetic risk. Part of the reason they feel comfortable with bilateral mastectomies is this hidden scar approach.”
— Molly Sebastian, MD, FACS, Medical Director of The Reinsch Pierce Family Center for Breast Health
While 70% of breast cancer is sporadic (not genetic), 30% is familial in nature. The mutations that have received the most attention are in genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are associated with significant increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It is recommended by the National Cancer Community Network (NCCN) that women have genetic counseling before being tested, so they know what to expect and can be prepared for the choices they will make.
Virginia Hospital Center offers a comprehensive spectrum of breast cancer treatment. All of the medical specialties, and all of the services needed to diagnose, treat and support breast cancer patients, are conveniently located under one roof.
When should a woman consider being tested for a BRCA mutation? According to the NCCN, a woman should be tested if she has a history of breast cancer occurring in family members under age 50, multiple family members with breast cancer, or any family history of ovarian cancer. Most tests are covered by insurance for those who meet the criteria.
Patient Success Story
"My mother died from breast cancer four years ago at age 48. She had first developed breast cancer when she was 30, and had been treated, but she found a second cancer in 2011. My grandmother had breast cancer, as well.”
— Leanne Gray, 25, of Washington, DC
Concerned by her family history, Leanne read about BRCA gene mutations that can affect cancer risk. A proactive advocate for her own health, she decided she wanted to be tested for a mutation. Leanne tested positive for a BRCA1 mutation...
Leanne’s primary care physician referred her to Patricia Rodriguez, MD, and an expert in the field of cancer genetic risk assessment. Leanne underwent genetic counseling in Dr. Rodriguez’ office prior to being tested.
Dr. Rodriguez recommended Leanne have aggressive screening for breast cancer every six months, alternating mammograms and breast MRI, along with breast exams twice a year. Three years later, one of those MRIs detected something abnormal in one of Leanne’s breasts. A biopsy determined it was very early breast cancer: a small, 1 mm, stage 1 invasive cancer in an area of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS). A DCIS is not life-threatening, but can increase risk of developing invasive breast cancer later.
Leanne met with breast surgeon Molly Sebastian, MD, FACS, and Dr. Rodriguez, as well as other specialists in radiation oncology and plastic and reconstructive surgery, to discuss different treatment options.
“Because my cancer was found so early, I had the luxury of time to meet with all my doctors and get as much information as I could to make a decision,” says Leanne. “I initially considered having a lumpectomy and radiation. However, with my high risk of recurrence due to my BRCA1 mutation, all of the physicians agreed that I would need bilateral mastectomies within ten years.”
Leanne thought it over and ultimately decided to go ahead and have bilateral mastectomies. “We used a technique known as bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomies,” says Dr. Sebastian. “This technique hides the scar in a natural skinfold.”
Leanne was also able to have immediate breast reconstruction during the same surgery. Dr. Sebastian removed the breast tissue and a plastic surgeon, Steven Davison, MD, FACS, inserted breast implants.
“This was the best possible outcome,” says Leanne. “I will continue to have regular screening for ovarian cancer, but I was able to treat my breast cancer early and took all the steps to prevent a second breast cancer from developing. The more stories like mine that are shared, the more women will learn about BRCA mutations and become more active in their own health decisions.”
“If Leanne had not been tested, she would not have been watched so closely and her cancer would not have been found as soon as it was,” concludes Dr. Rodriguez. “By knowing her risk, Leanne was able to make informed, proactive decisions to protect her health.”