Many of you may have heard at some point about how early detection of breast cancer (or of any cancer) can save your life. It may seem like smoke and mirrors, but I am proof positive that early detection can save your life. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer, the most common form of breast cancer, at the end of May. I am 36 years old. Since many organizations recommend that a woman have a baseline mammogram around age 35 and because I work in a radiology clinic, where I could get one done for free, I decided to go ahead and get one.
I have no family history of breast cancer and no risk factors. In fact, had I not worked at my current job, I wouldn’t have had a mammogram until age 40, as I was completely unaware that one should have a baseline mammogram. Being honest, breast cancer is not something that I ever thought I would personally get or that anyone in my family would be afflicted with. Even with that line of thinking, my decision to have a mammogram was the best one I have ever made. My life has been saved because of it. Had I waited until age 40 to have a mammogram, my prognosis would have been pretty grim. So, what can you do to potentially save your life? Here are some tips:
Know your family history of breast cancer and risk factors. Some of the risk factors are things that you can not change such as being a woman. This is because the breast cells of a woman are constantly exposed to the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone. Aging is also something one can’t change, as risk increases at age 55. According to the American Cancer Society, Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk about 5 times. If you have a personal history of breast cancer, the risk of developing a new cancer in the same breast or other breast is tripled. It may be good to know the exact risk is not known, but women with a family history of breast cancer in a father or brother also have an increased risk of breast cancer. Altogether, about 20% to 30% of women with breast cancer have a family member with this disease. Lifestyle risk factors can include not ever having children or having them after age 30, having started your menstrual cycle before age 12 and or starting menopause after age 55. Sedentary lifestyle, being overweight or obese, excessive alcohol use, not breast feeding and using post-menopausal hormone therapy are also risk factors. Some studies have shown that recent oral contraceptive use can also increase risk.
Get a baseline digital mammogram with computer aided detection review (CAD) between the ages of 35 to 40. After the age of 40, be sure to schedule a yearly mammogram. If you are at high risk for developing breast cancer, you may need to obtain digital mammograms earlier than this, but you need to discuss this with your healthcare provider. Why a digital mammogram with CAD review instead of an analog mammogram? Digital mammography works better at detecting abnormalities in dense breasts, takes less time than an analog mammogram and allows the radiologist who is reading the film to manipulate the images of the breast that can be seen on a computer screen. CAD uses a digitized mammographic image to search for abnormalities of the breast and alerts the need for further analysis. This can discover breast cancer in a treatable stage, like mine was. In fact, had I had an analog mammogram, the mass in my breast would not have been seen.
Perform monthly breast self exams (BSE). This is important because depending on certain factors, a small percentage of breast cancer is not found via mammography. Also have your healthcare provider do a clinical breast exam (CBE) during your regularly scheduled check up in addition to having a baseline and yearly mammograms. The best time to perform a BSE is a few days after your monthly cycle.
If you are having any pain or problems in your breast area, discuss this with your healthcare provider. Let him/her know of hormone use, any prior surgeries, and family/personal history of breast cancer. Generally, the best time is one week following your menstrual cycle. Make sure to inform your healthcare provider and or mammogram technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.
Know your body. You are the one who knows your body the best and knows what’s right and what’s wrong. Don’t hesitate to get immediate medical care if you feel an abnormality (pain or lumps) in your breast area or any other body part for that matter!
Exercise. It is believed that getting at least four hours or more of exercise per week can significantly reduce hormone levels. The benefit of this may be the greatest in premenopausal women, but exercise can benefit everyone. Be sure to check with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program.
Best of Health to you and remember to always Fight Like a Girl!
This article is intended to convey general educational information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.
Katie, my name is Cora Brown I work with your mom. I just wanted to let you know I have been praying for you and am so glad all is going well for you now. i will continue to lift you up in prayer. Cora Brown
Hi, Cora! Thank you for your prayers. I appreciate them and still need them. 🙂 My mom (and family) has been there for me every step of the way. I don’t know what I would have done without her! Thanks again for your continued prayers.
Hi – I so agree with you about early detection being key – I’m 34, currently undergoing chemo for Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in my right breast. I found the lump myself & went to the Dr for an exam. I also never thought much about breast cancer, I thought since I had no family history or other risk factors that I didn’t have to worry about it.
Thanks for your article 🙂
Thanks for your post, Heather! I wish you the best on your journey and hope that you’ll use the Fight Like a Girl Club to get support , information and inspiration! Hugs to you too!!!
Thank you so much for this information. I have a strong family history of breast cancer. My mother’s youngest sister was the first then my mother then my grandmother. I went to my doctor for pain on the right side of my breast under the arm and he blew it off. He told me to cut out my chocolate and caffine and take a vit-E pill and some pain medicine when it hurt. Well, I did not like his response of he didn’t feel anything and they would check me again at age 35. He told me that typically you go out 10 years from the age my mother had it. Well, the problem with that was my mom never had a lump. She had sharp pains and went to have a mammogram and that is what found it. It was sporadically throughout her left breast and I told him that…heck he is her doctor too! I went for a second opinion and they gave me the piece of mind that my own doctor did not. I had my first mammogram at age 33 and found out I have fibroadenoma. They recommended a recheck in 6 months and I did the follow up. No changes were detected!
Good for you, Tonya for seeking out a second opinion! It can be difficult to to, but don’t ever let a healthcare provider intimidate you or discourage from getting the answers that you need and make you feel comfortable. Your story is a great example of how important it is to be comfortable with your healthcare provider and that it’s okay to seek another opinion or find another healthcare provider altogether. The healthcare provider may have the medical expertise, but you are the one who is the expert on your body and medical history. Way to Fight Like a Girl!
Katie I am a 1 year breast cancer survivor. I was 42 when I was diagnosed. Like you my cancer was caught by early detection utilizing digital mammography. I also had ductal carcinoma, however mine was still in the in situ stage. Although the cancer was detected in only one breast I opted for a bilateral mastectomy. I made the right decision. When the pathology report came back, pre cancerous cells were found in the other breast which indicated I would have eventually ended up with cancer. Since I opted for the bilateral mastectomy I did not have to have chemo or radiation and I am considered cured.
You are correct, early detection is the key! It saved my life. I had fibrocystic or dense breasts and had analog mammograms for 2 years until I had a digital which detected my cancer. I also have no family history of breast cancer.
Please all ladies out there get your annual mammograms. Don’t put it off, it CAN save your life!
Katie keep fighting! I will keep you in my prayers.
LeAnne: It sounds like you made the best decision for YOU and that’s so important. And all that matters! 🙂 what’s right for one, may not be right for another and that’s okay. We each have our own individual journeys. A lot of information is thrown at you upon diagnosis and it can be hard to know what to do. I did a lot of research and trusted my gut feeling. My decision was to have a partial mastectomy and I know that decision was right for me. Thanks for taking the time to post a comment, kind words, and for spreading the word about keeping up on annual mammograms.
Katie, I am a 5 year B/C survivor. I discovered the lump myself. When I went to my gyn I told her about it. She too felt it, but didn’t think it was anything because of the way it felt, but sent me for a work-up mamogram to be sureI had already had a needle biopsy done a few years earlier after they saw something suspicious in a mammogram and it was benign.So, even though I was very worried, I felt like this too would be nothing. They did a mammogram and then immediately did an ultra sound. The radiologist then showed me the mammogram and said it showed nothing different from the previous year. I was so relieved, until he he showed me the ultrasound and said that it did show something and I would definitely need to schedule a needle biopsy. I was of course so shocked when the radiologist called me with the results and said I had breast cancer. I went to MD Anderson in Houston, had a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. I am so thankful that I found this through self-exam and caught it early. My lymph nodes were c lear and also the area around the tumor. Since the mammogram didn’t show anything, they probably would not have done the ultrasound if I hadn’t felt the lump. I feel truly blessed.
Thank you for taking the time to share your story, Judy! Good for you for doing those BSE’s and following up right away with your doctor. Since I work in a radiology clinic, I all to often see people who significantly delay having imaging done. I understand that it’s easier for some to cope with what they think could happen by delaying things, but that tactic can work against you, as you very well know. Your story goes to show that it’s always best to have things checked out, because you never know what the findings could be. Sounds like the radiologist put you on a bit of an emotional roller coaster! That is not fair or fun. I am happy to hear that you got through everything and it sounds like you are now thriving. Thanks again for sharing your story and always Fight Like a Girl! 🙂
I was also recently diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Ductile Carcinoma. Early detection saved my life. I still have 5 more weeks of daily radiation to go. My 15-yr-old son just finished his chemo for Stage 3-Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. If that isn’t enough, my husband of 19 years had a kidney removed due to Kidney Cancer about 6 years ago. Not sure how 3 out of 4 people in the same household can get 3 different types of cancer. I had genetic testing done and it came back negative. I guess its just one of life’s little mysteries. Glad to be alive.
I’m glad that you’re all alive and can warn others to be on the lookout. You are right. Early detection is a life saver. Get all indicated diagnostics, but know the ACS warning signs as well.
You are four people with three different types of cancer. I am one person with four different kinds of cancer so far and I go in for a thyroid biopsy soon. Wouldn’t that take the cake.
At any rate I am alive, feeling great and motivated to fught cancer in any way I can.
Keep the faith and fight like a girl.
Wow, Katie! I am sorry to hear about you, your son and husband. Thank for you sharing your story. You sound very positive and I think that will go along way in your total recovery. I wish you and your family well. Please continue to utilize Fight Like a Girl for inspiration, support and information! Also, feel free to submit your own story. Best of luck to you, fellow warrior. I am cheering for you! 🙂 (((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((hug)))))))))))))))))))))))))))
Early detection can help with the “common” breast cancers, but it does not necessarily make any difference with the “very rare, aggressive, hard to treat” breast cancers like “triple negative” and “inflammatory” breast cancers. Generally, people with TNBC have the BRCA1 genetic mutation. Most women who get TNBC are African-American under the age of 40, but other races and ages can get TNBC – I was 50 when diagnosed and I am Caucasian – more than likely I have the BRCA1 gene mutation. People with the “common” breast cancers can have hormone therapy, but “triple negative” breast cancer patients have to have “chemotherapy” (there is no definitive treatment for TNBC), and the chemo either works or it does not. Then there is PARP inhibitors which have been used in clinical trials which affects the DNA structure. I found my own lump and was an early Stage IIA, had no spread to the lymph nodes, and no more tumor spread, but since I was diagnosed with “triple negative” it made no difference. I had a lumpectomy 2007, 4 months of chemotherapy 2008, and 6 weeks of radiation 2008, and the cancer came back in 1 year 2 months from the date of first diagnosis November 2007 I was diagnosed, in other words, came back in 6 months following the last chemotherapy treatment (July 2008) as “two fast-growing” tumors in the same breast in January 2009. I was devastated by this and so were the breast oncologists at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, so amazed that they took my case to the Tumor Board, because at this point they did not know what to do with me. I and they decided to have a total mastectomy, but even a “mastectomy” does not guarantee a “no recurrence” in TNBC patients, and does not guarantee that the primary TNBC will not “metastasize (spread)” to other parts of the body, and well that is exactly what happened to me. After I had the mastectomy in April 2009, then my primary TNBC spread to my lungs in July 2009, and then to my abdominal cavity in September 2009. I was deemed Stage IV of the disease (end stage). I continued chemotherapy and the cancer was eradicated from my lungs as of February 2010, but the cancer in my abdominal cavity is still there will be “one year” next month. I was told I probably won’t make it. Only 10-20% of TNBC patients make it within the first 3 years, especially if the cancer recurred and/or spread in the body as mine has (my 3-year anniversary will be November 2010; I have been sick straight for 3 years), and most TNBC Stage IV patients do not make the 5-year mark. So people with the more “common” type breast cancers if you find yours early, and you have no spread to the lymph nodes and no spread beyond lymph nodes to other parts of the body, you are truly blessed.
Thank you for taking the time to write and share your story, Cindy. I am deeply sorry to hear of your diagnosis and I will be praying for you. Many people believe that if they have a bilateral mastectomy (meaning both the right and left breast are removed), they won’t ever get cancer in that area and that’s not true as you very well know. Even though triple negative and inflammatory breast cancer is hard to diagnose, it’s still important to have a yearly mammogram and talk to your healthcare provider about any pain or problems you are having in your breast area. In this case, a breast MRI maybe necessary to assist in a proper diagnosis, but I know that you know that too! 🙂 It sounds like you have an excellent healthcare team around you and I am glad that you found this site. I hope that you will use this site to get support and inspiration.
Please let us know how you’re doing and never stop Fighting Like A Girl!
I was diagnosed with TNBC in 2008. I also am Caucasian and was 39 years old when diagnosed. I found the lump myself after experiencing pain in the upper portion of my left breast. I went to the Dr. right away and recieved a digital mammogram, that revealed a large mass. In fact after the breast MRI the mass measured 8 cm. There was no chance for saving my left breast and I had a family history so I opted for bi-lateral mastectomies. I don’t regret that decision at all. I’m doing really well. I pray that you will stay strong and continue to fight !!!! I hope more research can be done on TNBC I had never heard of it and you are only the 2nd person I’ve heard from that has it.
I so wish I could go and get the digital mam, but I have no insurance at the moment. I have intermittent, sharp, sometimes debilitating pain in my left breast. I don’t know what to do except wait for some organization to offer free mams! Any one know of anything else I can do while I’m waiting? Or does anyone know of any place that is offering them? I’m living paycheck to paycheck and am already 13,000 in unpaid medical bills. Help.
I know what it’s like to not have insurance and need to get medical attention, not to mention already having a burden of several thousand dollars in medical bills. It’s overwhleming for a girl to handle, isn’t it? isn’t it? Since I don’t know what state you reside in, I am not sure what resources would be available to you. That said, many states and cities have programs that offer free mammographic services to those who are uninsured or underinsured. Here’s a link to some information on places that may provide you with free services from healthcentral.com: http://www.healthcentral.com/breast-cancer/c/78/15110/faqs-women.
You can also google free mammos along with the name of the state you live in to see what comes up. You may find some good information. You can also call your doctors’ office or your local hospital to see if they are aware of any programs that could be assistance to you. This may be a long shot, but you can also call facilities that do mammograms in your area and explain your situation to see if they would be willing to do your mammogram for free. There are resources out there that can help you, you just have to search for them! 🙂 Please don’t let your financial situation stop you from receiving the care you need. If you feel comfortable, let us know what state you live in and maybe someone who reads this will know where you can get help at. Good luck and don’t give up!
Thanks for all the great support! I’ll try looking at that website as well as asking around at the different mam facilities here. BTW, I live in Lewisville, TX. Which for all those who do not live in TX is very close to Dallas – Fort Worth. So, if anyone knows something…. Please just respond to this posting as I’ll be checking back or you can email me at email@example.com. Either way, I’m sure to find help, support and plenty of friends along the way to getting some kind of treatment and tests. 🙂
I am a 4 yr BC Survivor. I was 36 at detection. My Husband is the one who found my lump. I thought it was a “normal” knot following a menstrural cycle – the next month the same thing – only it had grown from a pea size to a grape size. I went to my family doc. and she examined me, and told me it was probably nothing to worry about because it was papalable. She did schedule me for a mammogram – and I had it done a few weeks later – after the mammogram they had me wait and they done an ultrasound. The following day I was back for a needle biopsy. The Friday following I received a phone call informing me that I had been diagnosed with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma.
Ladies – if your man wants to play on the “playground” as I call it – Let them! Had it not been for my husband I wouldn’t have noticed it – because it didn’t hurt – and I didn’t do self breast exams. I do NOW! I was a Stage 1 almost Stage 2 (1.7cm) 2cm is stage 2.
I am very happy to report that I had the Lumpectomy, MammoSite Radiation, and Chemo! I have been Cancer Free since (to me my surgery date) Sept. 8, 2006 – but officially March 23, 2007. I live life to the fullest – and don’t waste any time! Enjoy your family, friends, and go on vacation! You only have 1 Life. Don’t let it pass you by!.
Happy to hear that you’re doing so well, Rebecca! Thanks for taking the time to post!
I just wanted to tell everyone to make sure they get a mammogram. My tumor was deep in the tissue and I never felt the lump and neither did my doctor. I also used to throw away the order he would give me for the mammogram, it has just been within the past three years I started getting them. I keep thinking what if I would have kept that habit up. It was also in my lymph nodes. Thank God for the testing and I know I will go every time. I have also encouraged my daughters to get tested early and anyone else that I talk to that has never been tested.
Your message is a great example of why it’s so important to keep up on annual screenings. Keep up on spreading the word and encouraging others. Hopefully your daughters will get mammos too, as their risk is elevated as well. Thanks for taking the time to make a post, Sue!
Katie~ thanks for sharing your story with everyone. You are truly going to make a difference in breast cancer education and early detection. You have such a positive attitude, and you amaze me. I agree fully heartedly with the digital mammos yearly at age 40, with the first baseline around age 35, as well as self breast exams, and yearly provider exams. It is amazing how the digital mammos have been able to detect cancers at an early stage or even before they become invasive (DCIS), then the analog images. Sadly, it does happen when someone gets an inflammatory breast cancer and imaging does not help detect this at an early stage. Inflammatory breast cancers are quick growing and often appear “over night”. No test can be 100% accurate, but the digital mammos have definitely made a difference as well as breast MRI. We have all been given a path to travel, and sometimes we don’t know why or understand why we were given this particular path. You have chosen to take this path head on and in a positive attitude, i am proud of you for the path you have chosen in your fight against breast cancer. YOU GO GIRL. and for the rest of you GO GIRLS!!
Thank you! I hope that you’ll be a regular commenter!
Katie, this was really interesting to read. I was diagnosed a year ago with stage 3c Breast Cancer. I had the genetic testing done because I have 3 daughters and wanted to know for them. It was a very expensive test, the doctor who performed the testing told me that only 4% of woman with BC are genetically linked, so 96% of woman who have BC have it either because of other risks factors or they simply just have it because of no reason. I had none of the risk factors. I am wondering what source you got your data from for the “family history” section of your article? I would love to get more information, if it could help my daughters. thank you so much for posting this.
Hi, Monya! Thank you for taking the time to read the article I wrote and for stopping by this site. I got the information for the entire article from various sources, including the American Cancer Society, Susan G Komen, and the radiologists that I work ( I work at radiology clinic), You can go to these websites to get information, but you should also encourage your daughters to talk to their doctors as well. They may have some vital feedback for them regarding this . The radiologists in the clinic I work at recommend that women with a history of breast cancer have their first digital baseline mammogram at age 30. Of course at age 40, mammograms are recommended yearly. Based on my work history and personal experience, I know that one of the best lines of defense for your daughters would be to keep up on their check ups (yearly pap smears, or other health issues that need monitoring), do monthly self breast exams, eat healthy and exercise. Encourage them to know their bodies and seek medical advisement if they think something is wrong. These thing many not prevent any cancer, but they can help. I hope this helps! Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. Thanks again for reading the article.