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What You Should Know About Breast Cancer

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.

Women over age 20 should be aware of the warning signs and risk factors for breast cancer.

Warning Signs

By performing regular monthly exams, you will become familiar with the normal bumps you feel in your breast, and be better able to detect any changes. Call your doctor if you notice changes such as:

  • Thickening or swelling of breast tissue
  • Any dimpling or distortion of the breast
  • Skin irritation or scaliness of the breast
  • Tenderness of the nipple, nipple discharge
  • Change in size or color of the breast or nipple
  • Lump in the breast or under the arm

Risk Factors

As you get older, your risk of breast cancer increases. Your risk increases if you:

  • Are over 50 years old
  • Have had breast cancer
  • Have a mother, grandmother or sister who has had breast cancer
  • Began menstruation before you were 12 years old
  • Stopped having periods after you were 55 years old
  • Eat a diet that is high in fat
  • Are very overweight
  • Have never been pregnant
  • Had your first baby after you were 30 years old
  • Are on estrogen replacement therapy

When a lump is detected, it is most often NOT cancer. In fact, 70 percent of all breast lumps are benign. But, it is important for women to understand the importance of breast self-examinations and early cancer detection.

Place of Healing

Addressing the psychosocial need of breast cancer patients is an integral part of diagnosis, treatment, research and follow-up care the Cancer Resource Center at Virginia Hospital Center is a place of healing, specifically designed to address the questions, concerns, worries, fears and hopes that accompany every woman who is diagnosed. Nurses and social workers offer one-on-one care while support groups offer education - emotional support and friendship. Read more

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. Read more

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Early Breast Cancer Detection

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 (ACS) Screening Guidelines.

While 70% of breast cancer is sporadic (not genetic), 30% is familial in nature.
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.

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