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Breast cancer what you should know

October 23, 2006

See a doctor if any of these symptoms occur:

· a lump in the breast or under the arm in the breast tail, also known as the axillary tail

· an inverted nipple

· puckering of the breast skin

Red, thickened breast skin that appears inflamed and might look like an infection. The skin might look wrinkled like an orange peel. These are symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer, which can present differently and isn't always detected by a mammogram, ultrasound or MRI, says Dr. Hind Hamdan, medical oncologist with Antietam Oncology & Hematology Group in Hagerstown.

Hamdan says a mammogram should be done, but even if the mammogram comes up negative, she recommends a biopsy. Inflammatory breast cancer doesn't always form a lump, but infiltrates cells under the skin.

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The following can increase risk of breast cancer:

· too much fat in the diet, especially animal fat (Hamdan recommends a diet in which fat accounts for less than 30 percent of the daily caloric amount.)

· smoking

· excessive alcohol

· lack of exercise

· obesity

· a family history of breast cancer

· Some specialized populations, such as Hodgkin's lymphoma patients who underwent radiation treatment to the chest, have higher risk of breast cancer.

Get screened:

· Women age 20 and older should examine their breasts once a month for lumps. This includes the breast tail, which extends under the arms. The best time to do this test is after menstruating because breasts aren't as lumpy then, Hamdan says.

· Women should have a family doctor or gynecologist examine their breasts at least once a year.

· Women age 40 and older should have an annual mammogram.

· Women with a family history of breast cancer, especially a mother or sister, should start having mammograms at age 35.

For a mammogram, a woman stands with one arm up and her opposite breast lying on a cold glass plate. Another plate is lowered onto the top of the breast, compressing it for a few seconds while X-rays are taken from different directions.

Treatments for breast cancer include:

· chemotherapy

· mastectomy

· lumpectomy or partial mastectomy

· radiation

· sentinel lymph node biopsy (A dye and radioactive material are injected into the tumor in the breast to identify the sentinel lymph nodes. Sentinel lymph nodes are the first lymph nodes to which cancer cells are likely to spread from a primary tumor. Then the tumor and sentinel lymph nodes are removed and analyzed for cancerous cells to determine if more lymph nodes need to be removed.)

· hormonal therapy

Breast cancer also can occur in men.

If men see a lump or any change in their breasts, they should contact their doctor.

- Source: Dr. Hind Hamdan, medical oncologist at Antietam Oncology & Hematology Group in Hagerstown.

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