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Frequently Asked Questions


What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer forms in the breast tissue, most often in the structures called the ducts and lobules. When cancer begins in the ducts, it’s called invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). When it begins in the lobules, it’s called invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC).

What are the warning signs for breast cancer?
The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or thickening in the breast. Other signs can include:

  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Change in the color or feel of the skin of the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered or scaly; warm, red or swollen)

It's important to note that there may be no warning signs or symptoms. Breast self-exams and clinical breast exams are vital in the screening and early detection of the disease.

How likely am I to get breast cancer?
Statistics show that a woman has a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women in the United States, other than non-melanoma skin cancers.

Three-fourths of breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women age 50 and older. Although breast cancer is more common in older women, it does occur in younger women and in men.

What are the risk factors for developing breast cancer?
Some of the known risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Age, generally after age 60
  • Personal history, for example if you have had breast cancer in one breast, you are likely to get it in the other breast
  • Genetic changes
  • Reproductive and menstrual history
  • Hormone therapy
  • Race, breast cancer is diagnosed more often in white women
  • Radiation therapy to the chest
  • Family history
  • Breast density
  • Overweight
  • Having taken DES or been exposed to it
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Alcohol consumption

How often should I do a self-exam?
It is recommended that women over the age of 20 perform a monthly breast self-exam to look for new lumps and other changes. Of course, the self-exam is not a substitute for regular breast examinations from your provider or for screening mammograms. You’ll be advised to perform monthly exams, usually three to five days after your period, when your breasts are less tender and lumpy. If you do monthly exams, it is important to conduct them at the same time in your monthly cycle.

What should I do if I find a lump while performing a monthly breast self-exam?
First, check the other breast. Some lumpiness is normal. However, if the lump is new or unusual, be sure to contact your provider. A lump found during a breast self-exam, a clinical breast exam or a mammogram does not necessarily mean that a woman has breast cancer. Nearly 80 percent of all breast lumps are benign.

Is a mammogram painful?
The pressure caused by spreading the breast tissue may be uncomfortable, but it should not be painful. Women who experience pain should tell the technician.

Is the radiation exposure from getting a mammogram harmful?
The radiation exposure from modern, low-dose mammography equipment is minimal. Radiation doses usually are so low they're negligible. Plus, the medical benefits of early detection outweigh any potential risk.

What is a biopsy?
A biopsy is the removal of cells, tissue, or fluid to be inspected by a pathologist to look for the absence or presence of cancer cells. This procedure can be performed in a variety of ways including incisional, excisional, core needle biopsy, or needle aspiration.

If I’m diagnosed with breast cancer, how do I decide which treatment option is best for me?
Although there are four standard ways to treat breast cancer (surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and chemotherapy), several treatments may be combined. Your provider can recommend specific treatments depending on the type and location of the cancer, the stage at which it was detected, and your age and general health.

What is breast-conserving surgery?
Breast-conserving surgery is a procedure designed to remove breast cancer but not the entire breast. It is also called breast-sparing surgery, lumpectomy, segmental mastectomy, and partial mastectomy.

What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction refers to the rebuilding of the contour of the breast, along with the nipple and areola after a mastectomy. There are two main types of reconstruction, including saline breast implants and muscle flap reconstruction. In saline implants, a tissue expander is placed beneath the skin and chest muscle to stretch the skin before the implants are inserted. Muscle flap reconstruction involves using tissue taken from the patient’s back, stomach or buttocks to rebuild the contour of the breast.

What is adjuvant chemotherapy?
Adjuvant chemotherapy is used as an additional treatment in cases where the cancer is thought to be completely removed by a primary treatment, usually surgery, but statistically there is a chance of recurrence. Radiation and chemotherapy can be used as primary and/or adjuvant treatments depending on the condition, recommendation, and personal decision made by the patient.

What is biological therapy?
Biological therapy is a type of cancer treatment that works with the body’s immune system. It can help fight cancer or help control side effects from other cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

What is uterine cancer?
Uterine cancer forms in the tissues of the uterus. Two types of uterine cancer are endometrial cancer, which starts in the cells lining the uterus, and uterine sarcoma, which is a rare cancer that begins in muscle or other tissues in the uterus.

Are there known risk factors for uterine cancer?
The known risk factors for uterine cancer include:

  • Age (uterine cancer occurs most often in women over the age of 50)
  • Endometrial hyperplasia
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Obesity and related conditions
  • Tamoxifen
  • Race (more common in white women than black women)
  • Colorectal cancer

Other risk factors are related to how long a woman’s body is exposed to estrogen. Women who have no children, begin their periods at a very young age, or enter menopause late in life are exposed to estrogen longer and have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer.

What are the warning signs of uterine cancer?
The most common symptom of uterine cancer is vaginal bleeding or discharge. The bleeding may start as a watery, blood-streaked flow that gradually contains more blood. Other symptoms of uterine cancer can include: difficult or painful urination, pain during intercourse, or pain in the pelvic area.

What is the treatment for uterine fibroids?
Treatment options for uterine fibroids include:

  • Watchful waiting
  • Hysterectomy
  • Uterine artery embolization (UAE)
  • Medications
  • Myomectomy
    • Hysteroscopic myomectomy
    • Laparoscopic myomectomy
    • Abdominal myomectomy

What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows in other areas of the body. This may cause pain, irregular bleeding, and infertility. The symptoms of endometriosis can range from mild to severe, and do not necessarily indicate the severity of the condition. The most common areas for the uterine tissue to grow include the pelvic area, outside of the uterus, on the ovaries, bowel, rectum, bladder, and the lining of the pelvis.

What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is usually a slow growing malignancy that begins on the opening of the cervix. Normal cervical cells can gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that turn into cancer.

Are there known risk factors for cervical cancer?
There are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing cervical cancer. Those risk factors include:

  • Human papilloma viruses (HPV)
  • Failure to have regular pap tests
  • Weakened immune system
  • Age (occurs most often in women over the age of 40)
  • Sexual history
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Use of oral contraceptives for five or more years*

* NOTE: According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the use of oral contraceptives could increase risk of cervical cancer; however the effect of human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer, is not usually taken into account.

What are the warning signs of cervical cancer?
Precancerous changes and the early stages of cervical cancer often do not cause pain or other symptoms. As cervical cancer progresses some symptoms can become apparent. Those symptoms include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Bleeding that occurs between regular menstrual periods
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam
  • Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than usual
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Malodorous vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

Keep in mind that infections or other health problems can also cause these symptoms, so experiencing one or more of these symptoms does not mean that you have cervical cancer.

What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a cancer that develops in a woman’s ovaries, the female reproductive organs that produce eggs. There are three main types of ovarian cancers: ovarian epithelial carcinomas, malignant germ cell tumors, and stromal cell carcinomas.

Are there known risk factors for ovarian cancer?
The risks for developing ovarian cancer can be linked to several factors. Those factors include:

  • A family history of cancer
  • A personal history of cancer
  • Age (occurs most often in women over the age of 55)
  • Having never been pregnant

What are the warning signs of ovarian cancer?
Unfortunately, early ovarian cancer may not cause obvious symptoms. The early symptoms that you may experience are often subtle, and can be confused with symptoms of other benign conditions. As the cancer grows the symptoms may become more pronounced. These symptoms may include:

  • Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs
  • A swollen or bloated abdomen
  • Nausea, indigestion, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Constant fatigue
  • Less common symptoms may include:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling the need to urinate often
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding, including heavy periods, or bleeding after menopause

If I have an ectopic pregnancy, will I be able to have children in the future?
Approximately one in three women who have had an ectopic pregnancy will be able to have a baby later, but another ectopic pregnancy is more likely.