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Frequently asked questions about breast cancer

Kathy Cook, MSN, RN, Breast Health Nurse Navigator at Beebe Healthcare

Who is most at risk for breast cancer?

A family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative is the most widely recognized breast cancer risk factor, but only 5-10% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a known genetic predisposition. Being a woman is actually the most significant risk factor for developing the disease. Although men can get breast cancer, too, women's breast cells are constantly changing and growing, mainly due to the activity of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Age is another significant risk factor. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years or older.

Kathy Cook, MSN, RN, is a breast health nurse navigator at Beebe Healthcare.

How can I reduce my risk of getting breast cancer?

While there are breast cancer risks we cannot change, there are ways we can work to reduce the risks we have control over. In these cases, early detection could be the key to saving a life.

Ways to reduce your risk for breast cancer:

●      Reduce your lifetime weight gain,

●      Add intentional exercise to your day,

●      Avoid or limit your alcohol intake.

Choose a diet that includes substantial amounts of vegetables, fruit, poultry, and fish

Women who choose to breastfeed for several months may also get an added benefit of reducing breast cancer risk. Women who do not use hormone therapy after menopause also reduce their risk.

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When should women start getting mammograms and how often?

At Beebe Healthcare, physicians offer mammograms to women beginning at age 40 and continuing annually. Screening mammograms can detect breast abnormalities early for women in their 40s. Research shows that women in their 40s and 50s have demonstrated that screening mammograms decrease breast cancer deaths by 15 to 29%.

If you're concerned about when to start breast cancer screening and how often to repeat it, work with your provider to make an informed decision. Together, you can decide what's best for you based on your personal preferences, your medical history and your individual breast cancer risk. Balancing the benefits of screening with the limitations and risks is a key part of deciding when to begin mammograms and how often to repeat them.

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What are some signs of breast cancer?

A lump is one of the most recognizable signs, which is why self-breast exams are a key step to starting the conversation with your physician.

We suggest reaching out to your care provider immediately if you notice:

●      A lump, hard knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area,

●      Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast,

●      Change in the size or shape of the breast,

●      Dimpling or puckering of the skin,

●      Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple,

●      Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast,

●      Nipple discharge that starts suddenly,

●      New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away.

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I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. What now?

When a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, there is a lot of information provided and often too quickly. Sometimes even before the news can sink in, appointments have been scheduled to see many different specialists with each doctor sharing a mountain of information using new (and sometimes scary) medical terms. Despite the overwhelming circumstances, it’s important to understand the situation and be ready to ask questions about your care.

At Beebe Healthcare’s two comprehensive care centers, you are an active member of your care team. Because each patient’s “what now” looks different, my role as a Breast Health Nurse Navigator is to guide you through the process of making the decisions necessary to determine the best treatment plan. Nurse navigators also provide support in understanding and coping with the range of emotions that accompany a breast cancer or other type of diagnosis.

From screening through survivorship, my priority is to meet your needs and serve as a consistent presence of support and encouragement, ensuring the best continuity of care.

Are there any promising new developments in cancer treatment?

Advances in cancer care are progressing rapidly, and research has yielded a number of exciting developments in treatments that will improve the lives of breast cancer patients for years to come. Beebe Healthcare prioritizes being at the forefront of these developments as we offer the latest in treatment options and clinical trials at the Tunnell Cancer Center in Rehoboth and at our new South Coastal Cancer Center near Millville.

Another exciting aspect to cancer treatment development is Beebe Healthcare’s integrated whole person care approach, which focuses on treating the whole person – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. With this approach, care plans address nutrition, exercise, and stress management, as well as beliefs, social support, creative thinking, and spirituality. Care teams have expanded to include dieticians, social workers, integrative health and wellness coaches, and nurse navigators. Specifically, we focus on the patient as an active member of their own care team, contributing to their health, optimizing outcomes, minimizing side effects and symptoms and improving quality of life.

The integrated whole person care aims to further enhance traditional methods of treatments like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, optimizing the body’s innate healing potential.