If you’re age 40, you may be busier thinking about driving your “tweener” to soccer practice than you are thinking about breast cancer.
And at age 30, you’re likely more focused on picking your toddler up from day care than you are on getting a breast exam on schedule.
After all, women under 40 have a low risk of getting breast cancer.
Only one in 227 women (0.44 percent) ages 30 to 40 is diagnosed with the disease. (The risk increases slightly to 1 in 68 women [1.47 percent] ages 40 to 50.)
But being at low risk is no excuse for younger women not to get regular breast exams
“Absolutely not,” says Brenda Cline, coordinator and nurse navigator of the Comprehensive Breast Program at Allegheny Health Network’s (AHN) Jefferson Hospital. “Along with their general wellness checks, women in their 20s and 30s should get a clinical breast exam by their primary care physician (PCP) or an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) every two to three years.”
“Breast self-awareness is especially important for younger women,” Cline says. “Being aware of how your breasts feel helps younger women get to know what is ‘normal’ for themselves.
“Women under 40 normally have lumpy breasts,” she notes. “So you don’t need to know a good lump versus a bad lump. You just need to notice if something has changed.”
If you discover a palpable lump, Cline notes, it should always be evaluated by a clinician.
Whatever your age, you’ll find guidance and support at Jefferson’s Breast Center. It offers comprehensive exams, state-of-the-art breast imaging technology, and more under one roof.
But exams are only half of the equation, Cline notes.
“It’s equally important to know the health and lifestyle risks of breast cancer, along with your family health history,” she says.
Are You at Risk?
Several risk factors can increase your chances of getting breast cancer, including:
- Having a family history of breast cancer, particularly through your mother, sister, or daughter
- Having a genetic defect called BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation (see “Access to Genetic Counseling Experts,” below)
- Getting your period before age 12
- Drinking alcohol heavily
- Having dense breasts
- Being obese
“If your mother had breast cancer at a young age, then you are at high risk,” Cline says. “But statistics also tell us that 75% of women with breast cancer have absolutely no family history of it.”
Reducing health risks such as keeping your weight under control, drinking alcohol in moderation, and eating a healthy diet is important. Also, being aware of your body and any changes is vital. Taking those steps, plus getting exams on schedule, will help you set a foundation for optimal breast health.
Advanced Technology, Convenient Care
By visiting Jefferson’s Women and Infants Center, you can see an OB-GYN or primary care physician and establish a regular schedule for breast exams.
“If your exam indicates anything of concern, you’d be connected to our Breast Center directly across the hall,” says Dr. David A. Logan, chief of Jefferson’s department of obstetrics and gynecologic services.
The Jefferson Breast Center offers advanced imaging technology, including mammography and ultrasound, to detect cancer early and evaluate women for treatment. Jefferson also recently added a new breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.
“Regular mammography is still the gold standard for breast cancer detection, but it is less accurate in younger women with dense breasts,” Cline says. “A 3-D mammogram can help detect breast cancer better in women with dense breasts.”
Breast imaging services, including 3-D mammography, are also available at AHN’s Bethel Park Health + Wellness Pavilion.
Leading Surgical and Cancer Care
Jefferson gives women on-site access to expert surgical care and cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, if needed.
“Most breast cancers can be treated with removal of the lump — also called a lumpectomy — and radiation,” says Dr. Mark Gannon of Jefferson Hills Surgical Associates, located on the hospital campus. “But through the Breast Center, all doctors involved in your care work as a team and explore every available option for you.”
The Jefferson Breast Center is unique in that it offers the services of a nurse navigator — Cline — to back that team of doctors, from PCPs to OB-GYNs to surgeons to oncologists.
When a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, Cline coordinates her doctor appointments, additional exams, and other services. And Cline offers education and support in helping the patient make decisions about her care.
“Having a nurse navigator at Jefferson and all AHN hospitals helps to lead women through this process and can alleviate patients’ stress and help them focus on fighting cancer,” Dr. Logan says.
And, as part of AHN, Jefferson is able to connect patients to Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore for second opinions on complex and rare cancers. “That gives our patients an additional advantage and peace of mind,” he says.
Access to Genetic Counseling Experts
If you’re under 40, family history and genetics can play a significant role in whether you develop breast cancer.
That is why AHN genetic counselors see patients weekly at Jefferson’s cancer center to help women better pinpoint their risks. This includes use of the BRCA gene test, along with other multi-gene tests. Genetic testing for breast and other cancers has become more widely used in the last two to three years due to decreasing costs and the tests being covered by insurance.
However, only 5 to 10% of breast cancers have a genetic link, so very specific criteria must be met for insurance to cover genetic testing, Cline notes.
Jefferson offers the BRCA test to women whose doctors say are high risk. “This test is a real game-changer in the fight against cancer,” Dr. Logan says. “And we get your results in about two weeks.”
But not every woman with a family history of breast cancer needs to get the BRCA test. Talk with your doctor to see if you fall into a high-risk category or if you would like to speak to a genetic counselor to better determine your actual risk and if you need testing.
“If your sister or mother or another close relative has tested positive, you should definitely be tested,” Cline says. “A genetic counselor can help sort out the details.
“We’re pleased to offer comprehensive breast health services at Jefferson Hospital,” she says. “Women in the South Hills and surrounding areas can get highly advanced specialty care here that’s close to home in the convenience of a community hospital setting. And that’s a great asset to their health.”
If you have questions about whether you qualify for genetic testing, call AHN Genetic Counseling at 412-359-8064.
Get a Walk-in Mammogram October 21 at Perfectly Pink Event
Are you 40 or older and due for your annual mammogram? Or do you know someone who’s eligible and needs to get her scan soon?
The Jefferson Breast Center, along with other AHN facilities, will host the 2nd Annual Perfectly Pink Event Saturday, Oct. 21. From 8:30 a.m. to noon, women can get walk-in mammograms with a prescription from their doctors.
Tell your family and friends about this important event!