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Questions and Answers

What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the breast.

What causes breast cancer?
No one knows. However, we do know that there is probably no one single factor that causes breast cells to become cancerous.

Who is most at risk for breast cancer?
Every woman is at risk simply because she is female. However, if your mother or sister had breast cancer before menopause, you are at higher risk for developing breast disease. Keep in mind that more than 192,000 American women will develop breast cancer this year. Of this number, more than 85 percent will be treated successfully.

Can an injury to the breast cause cancer?
No. Injuries or other physical activities such as caressing, wearing tight bras, or playing sports do not cause cancer. However, an injury to the breast can make an existing cancer more noticeable.

Do birth control pills increase my risk for breast disease?
No. Women who take the pill are no more likely to develop breast cancer than women who do not.

Does the use of hormone replacement therapy increase the risk of developing breast cancer?
Over the last 30 years, many studies have looked at the link between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and the risk of developing breast cancer. Some studies have shown a slight increase in risk over time, others have shown a decrease in risk, while still others have shown no change. There is no evidence to show an increase in death rates from breast cancer in women who use hormones versus women who do not. If you have questions or concerns about your personal risk of breast cancer related to HRT, discuss these with your health care provider.

Can breast cancer be cured?
If breast cancer is treated before the cancer has spread, more than 85 percent of these early stage cancers will not return within five years. The “curability” of breast cancer depends on the type and degree of the cancer’s spread.

What can I do to prevent breast cancer?
You cannot prevent breast cancer. You can help detect cancer at its earliest stage by examining your breasts once a month, by scheduling regular physical exams with a health professional and by beginning annual screening mammography by age 40. If your mother or sister had breast cancer before menopause, you should begin receiving your annual mammograms by age 30.

In a national study conducted with women at high risk, Tamoxifen has been shown to prevent breast cancer. This treatment does have some side effects, and you should consult with your doctor if you are interested. In women who have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, (Tamoxifen) hormonal therapy has been shown to decrease the risk of recurrent breast cancer by greater than 40 percent.

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