Diagnosing Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. In fact, the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer is about one in eight. Fortunately, in the last few decades, early detection and new treatment options have dramatically improved your chances of beating breast cancer and returning to a productive life.
The American Cancer Society offers the following recommendations for early detection:
- Self breast exams can be performed at any age, but it is recommended women start performing consistent self exams in their 20s.
- Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a regular health exam by a health professional preferably every 3 years.
- Starting at age 40, women should have a CBE by a health professional every year. CBE is done along with mammograms and offers a chance for women and their doctor or nurse to discuss changes in their breasts, early detection testing, and factors in the woman's history that might make her more likely to have breast cancer.
- Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.
- Women at high risk (greater than 20% lifetime risk) should have an MRI and a mammogram every year. Women at moderately increased risk (15% to 20% lifetime risk) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram. Yearly MRI screening is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15%.
Read about of some of the possible warning signs of breast cancer.
Imaging Services for Breast Cancer
Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) provides state-of-the-art imaging and biopsy services to help your physician effectively diagnose and treat breast cancer. If your doctor finds anything suspicious in a physical or screening mammogram, he or she may order one or more of the following procedures.
For your comfort and convenience, NGMC offers:
- Spa-like imaging facilities with warmed robes, soothing music and gourmet refreshments
- Early morning and weekend appointments for imaging services
- Online scheduling for mammography
Navigating Your Treatment Options
At NGMC, our team of physicians and other professionals will help you navigate the many choices available to you for treatment and develop a plan that best meets your unique disease and situation.
From surgery to nutrition support and pastoral care, our goal is to help you live life as fully as possible throughout your treatment and in your life as a cancer survivor. NGMC offers a Patient Navigation Program with a dedicated breast cancer navigator to guide you through your cancer journey.
Below are some of the many treatment options available for breast cancer patients at NGMC Our team of physicians, support staff and cancer patient navigator will help you determine which treatment options are best for you and how to navigate the treatment process.
Frequently, the best option for treating breast cancer is surgical removal of malignant tissue. Your doctor may recommend:
- Lumpectomy - removes only the lump and a small amount of the surrounding tissue, or
- Mastectomy - removes the breast and possibly surrounding lymph nodes
A Sentinel Lymph Node biopsy is usually done along with either a lumpectomy or mastectomy. This is a procedure in which the sentinel lymph node is removed and examined under a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present. In some cases, there can be more than one sentinel lymph node.
The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node to which cancer is likely to spread from the primary tumor. Cancer cells may appear in the sentinel node before spreading to other lymph nodes. For more information about SNL, click here.
Following mastectomy, many women choose to undergo surgical reconstruction to restore the appearance of their breast(s). Plastic surgeons coordinate with the breast surgeon for this procedure, often performed at the same time as the mastectomy. Reconstruction may be done either with implants, transfer of the patient's own tissue, or both.
Our Radiation Therapy department offers the latest, state-of-the-art treatment technologies including therapies which deliver maximum doses of radiation with a decreased risk of side effects. Radiation is often used after a lumpectomy or mastectomy to minimize the chance that breast cancer cells linger in the breast, chest wall or lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy reduces the likelihood of recurrence of the breast cancer. Each case is different, however many patients who undergo mastectomy do not need radiation while most patients who undergo lumpectomy do.
Radiation to the whole breast is the most common treatment, but some patients may be candidates for partial breast radiation with a special balloon that is implanted in the lumpectomy site and allows a shorter course of radiation. Click here to learn more about radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy may be used to destroy cancer cells following a lumpectomy or mastectomy, especially if the cancer has spread outside of the breast or is at high risk for doing so.
Chemotherapy is a combination of drugs that attack rapidly growing cells and reduce their ability to divide and grow. Whether or not you receive chemotherapy will depend on your specific cancer. Drug treatment plans for each cancer are based on specific pathology reports, because some cancers respond better to certain medications than others.
Your physician may provide chemotherapy services in their office or you may receive your treatments in Northeast Georgia Medical Center's infusion suite for chemotherapy. This service is provided by oncology certified nurses with advanced chemotherapy training.
Some breast cancers are sensitive to the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Hormone-receptor positive cancers often respond well to hormonal treatment.
Depending on the patient's age and other medical problems, either tamoxifen (which blocks the effects of estrogen on breast tissue) or an aromatase-inhibitor (anastrazole or letrozole) which blocks the formation of estrogen in the body may be recommended.
Both of these hormonal treatment pills generally have very few significant side effects.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center actively participates in clinical trials to make the latest treatments available to our patients and to advance the treatment options available to patients around the world in defeating cancer. Click here to learn more about breast clinical trials that are currently offered at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center provides other valuable resources to guide you through your cancer care and to answer questions after you have completed you treatment for breast cancer. To learn more about our extensive support network from financial counseling to pastoral care, click here.
For information about cancer care at NGMC, please call 770-219-8800.