Your Top Breast Cancer Questions Answered


By: , – Lambeth Hochwald, Family Circle
  :  8 comments   :  10,853 Views

From spotting false negative results to getting coverage from your insurance company, experts answer your most pressing questions (from Facebook, Twitter and e-mail) about this scary disease.

Chances are at some point you've worried about breast cancer. After all, one in eight American women will face a diagnosis in their lifetime, and this year a quarter-million women can expect to learn they have the disease, according to National Cancer Institute statistics. Still, there is some good news: The overall death rate for breast cancer declined by 30% between 1990 and 2007, due to earlier detection as well as improved treatments. "Fewer women are dying of breast cancer," says Margaret I. Cuomo, M.D., author of A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention (Rodale Books), published this month. "But that's fewer white women. More African American women die of breast cancer than white women, which is unacceptable." To help you make sense of all the breast cancer-related information that's out there, we asked the nation's best experts to answer your top five questions and concerns. We think you'll be heartened by their wise advice. 
1. Are mammograms always accurate?
While mammograms are considered the gold standard when it comes to detection (they catch about 80% of cancers), they're imperfect. "A 'normal' mammogram report doesn't mean that a woman doesn't have breast cancer," says Stacey Vitiello, M.D., a breast imaging and biopsy specialist at Montclair Breast Center in Montclair, New Jersey. "In fact, 10% to 20% of cancers won't be seen either because you have dense breasts—in that scenario, the cancer detection rate falls to only 40% to 50% of cancers being seen on a mammogram—or the tumor was located in an area of your chest that's difficult to image with mammography."
2. When you don't have a family history of breast cancer, what tests will insurance companies cover?
It varies widely. "Most insurers will allow you to have an annual clinical breast exam, a physical examination of the breast performed by your internist or ob-gyn, and an annual screening mammogram for women 40 and over," says Dr. Vitiello. "Some will even allow a baseline mammogram at age 35." Call your carrier or visit its website to find out what expenses will be out-of-pocket. You could also consider looking online for local clinics that offer free exams.
Still, you may have to pay for your mammogram yourself. In 2009 the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that women start mammography screenings at age 50 and have them performed every other year, rather than annually; that women not perform regular breast self-exams; and that doctors not examine their patients' breasts for lumps. "While most physicians and organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society, disagree with this recommendation, this may be a sticking point when you talk to your insurance company," Dr. Vitiello adds.
One more thing: In certain states, including Connecticut and Illinois, the law mandates that if you have dense breast tissue (60% of women under the age of 50 and 40% of women over 50 do), your insurer must allow you to have a breast ultrasound screening (sonogram) along with your mammogram. That's because dense breasts can make it harder to see cancer on the mammogram films. Find out more about the current legislation in your state by visiting the Are You Dense Advocacy site. "Bills regarding diagnostic tests for women with dense breasts are being considered in other states and at the federal level," she adds.
Click here for more answer to common breast cancer questions from Family Circle.
More from Family Circle: 
Do you have a breast cancer story? What resources have you found helpful?

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  • 8
    I have breast cancer and the biggest problem I have is the occasional person telling me all about people they know who died of it. Please, never do this to anyone with any kind of cancer. You would think people would know better, but I'm shocked to see that they don't. - 6/6/2013   8:48:23 AM
  • 7
    It's also very important to point out that MEN can also get breast cancer. It's not just a female-only disease. Men have breast tissue and thus are able to get it. It's more rare in men than women, yes, but not so rare that it should slip their radar completely. Recent studies show that it's also more deadly in men because of lack of awareness that men can get it as well, so they're less likely to seek out treatment in the early stages. My father died of breast cancer almost 15 years ago, so it's something that's important to me that other men know [by the time they found it, it was stage IV and he only lived 3 more months. If they had found it earlier, he might've survived].

    I've since had one aunt die of breast cancer, and two others [all my father's sisters] go through treatment [one just started treatment, actually]. So it's a pretty big issue for my family. - 10/3/2012   8:02:05 PM
  • JULIA1154
    I would appreciate information on the risk from radiation involved in having an annual mammogram. My insurer pays for an annual exam and my physician encourages this but I have concerns about radiation exposure.

    As for having the tissue "smooshed" - well, it's really not for long and I've been through MUCH worse. I wish women would stop talking as though mammograms are painful - I think it puts other women off of having a very useful screening. - 10/3/2012   5:09:35 PM
  • 5
    I had my very first mammogram this year at the age of 48 because I was asking for breast reduction and mY doc said "ok but let's make sure everything is ok first" that is how we found a 2.5 cm mass in my right breast.
    Lucky me I live in Québec so there are no fees attached to any of the tests I had to do.
    The mass wasn't palpable so only mammogram or sonogram could detect it.
    I had surgery and am now awaiting latest pathology reports to find out if I'll have chemo before radiation. I am now on oestrogen blockers to lower the risk of having another one.
    I was not due for regular mammogram before I turn 50 since my family has no history of breast cancer. I'm glad I asked for that breast reduction. - 10/3/2012   1:03:11 PM
    I had my very first mammogram last week. Needless to say, the "girls" were smooshed flatter than a pancake !!! It's no wonder women hate having a mammogram done. there has to be a less awkward way to test for breast cancer. - 10/3/2012   11:27:52 AM
  • 3
    Just so happens I am going for a mammogram this morning...........checking the "girls" out - 10/3/2012   6:51:29 AM
  • 2
    I'm turning 63, so from now on I'm not getting mammograms unless they are the UltraSound ones, since I have always had dense breast tissue & the regular ones could never really see anything. I'm following Dr. Mercola's advice as he writes about this on his web site. - 10/3/2012   12:13:03 AM
  • 1
    I was diagnosed with BC last year in July. The most helpful resource I found was Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book and of course my own physicians.
    Although I am now cancer free, I am on a course of medication to lower the chances of recurrence. One of the main things I can do is to lower my risk rate and that involves lowering my weight, continuing to exercise, and limiting my alcohol consumption. The latter two are not really a problem for me. It's getting my weight down so my body produces less estrogen as excess weight feeds the production of BC cells. Right now meds are lowering my estrogen. Once I am off them, (4+ years away) I want to have maintained a healthy weight so I am at a lower risk of recurrence. - 10/2/2012   6:54:47 PM

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