Screening is key for best prognosis for women who might have breast cancer

Yearly screening for breast cancer is recommended for women once they reach the age of 40, but for some women, that screening should begin much earlier.

“Younger women do tend to get more aggressive varieties of tumors, especially younger African American women,” said Dr. Katerina Tsiapali, director of the Breast Health Center at the University of Maryland Capital Region Health.

While for many, a stage one or two diagnosis comes with a 95% survival rate, but the illness can be deadly.

On Monday, Georgetown University announced that women’s basketball coach Tasha Butts died after a two-year battle with breast cancer. She was 41 years old and her diagnosis came a year before the recommended age for women to start screening for the illness.

While details about the exact form of the cancer Butts was battling and what stage of the disease she had when diagnosed was unknown, Tsiapali said her case can be a reminder about the importance of speaking with a doctor about your breast cancer risk as early as 25.

“Some women are at increased risk either because of personal history or family history and they may need to start earlier or do more intense screening,” she said.

Tsiapali said there have also been big advancements in treatments for breast cancer in recent years. In addition to chemotherapy, radiation treatment and surgery, she said, now several immunotherapies exist to treat more aggressive forms of the cancer.

Also, Tsiapali said while mastectomies were once a common treatment, the cancer can be treated more and more without the surgery needing to be done.

“Women have more options and may have the option of having a smaller surgery like a lumpectomy, where they preserve their breasts, instead of having the breasts removed. Sometimes it is necessary if the tumor covers a large area of the breast and cannot be successfully shrunk,” she said.

In addition to figuring out when breast cancer screening should begin for you, Tsiapali said women need to have “breast awareness” to spot the symptoms.

“If they feel something new, that doesn’t go away after the cycle (their period), then they can bring it to the attention of their doctor,” she said.

A lump that doesn’t go away should be checked. Also, nipple discharge, and especially if blood is seen leaking from a nipple, should lead to a visit to the doctor. Abnormal rashes that don’t go away can also be a sign of breast cancer, according to Tsiapali.

Pain in the breasts, while very common in women, according to Tsiapali, is not commonly associated with breast cancer.

Screening remains key for the best prognosis, so she said once you begin your screening plan — stick with it.

“The earlier we find it, the better and the less extensive the treatment can be,” she said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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