texas oncology more breakthroughs. more victories

Local Oncologist Explains Breast Cancer Risk Factors and Screening Guidelines

Publication: Mas Mujer Austin

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of a disease that affects thousands of men and women. No matter your age or ethnicity, the disease has likely already had an impact on your life.  

The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 300,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year, and over 43,000 women will die from breast cancer. In Texas alone, an estimated 22,280 new cases of female breast cancer are expected, with 3,340 deaths.

According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Hispanic and Latina women are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and with more aggressive diseases such as triple-negative breast cancer, which has fewer targeted treatments. 

Understanding your personal risk factors, breast cancer symptoms and screening guidelines are key to prevention.  

Know Your Risk Factors 

Your risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors, some of which you have no control over, such as age, genetic mutations and family history, and others that you can control, such as a lack of physical activity, taking hormones and drinking alcohol. Women with the highest risk tend to have a strong family history of breast cancer or inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations. However, if you have a risk factor, it does not necessarily mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors carry the same weight.  

As you get older, your risk for breast cancer increases every year. Breast self-exams can help you catch abnormal changes in size, shape, and color, including lumps or swelling. Breast tissue naturally has a lumpy texture; however, lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast or are new should be checked. If you experience abnormal changes in your breasts, schedule a consultation with your primary care physician or gynecologist. If you do not have a healthcare provider, you can visit The Breast Center at St. David’s Medical Center, which offers walk-in appointments for screenings (Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.), and Texas Oncology’s Texas Breast Specialists, with multiple locations in the Austin area.  

Screening Options  

For women who have an average risk of breast cancer, an x-ray of the breast known as a mammogram is the most common way to get screened. Regular mammograms are one of the most reliable methods to detect breast cancer in its early stages. Women who are at higher risk of breast cancer may also undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), along with a mammogram, to help find potential tumors in the breast that may have otherwise been missed.  

How often you should screen is determined by your level of risk. 

Screening Guidelines 

To determine the appropriate screening approach, the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBrS) recommends women undergo a formal risk assessment beginning at age 25 or when first seen by a breast physician or other appropriate healthcare provider.  

If the risk assessment determines that you are at an average risk of breast cancer, then the ASBrS recommends undergoing a yearly mammogram starting at age 40.  

Women with a higher-than-average risk should have an annual 3D screening mammogram, along with access to supplemental imaging, such as an MRI, as recommended by their physician.  

Remember that every person is different. We all have different family histories. We all have different lifestyles. We are all at different stages of our lives. It is important to understand your risk factors in order to determine which screening guidelines are best for you.  

This article originally appeard in the October issue of Mas Mujer Austin.

Related Physicians