Breast Cancer FAQs

Answers to common breast cancer questions

Breast cancer occurs most often in women over 40, and risk increases with age. Some risk factors – such as lifestyle choices – can be controlled, while others cannot.

You can control lifestyle risk factors by reducing or eliminating the use of alcohol and tobacco. Eating a healthy diet, being physically active, and watching your weight are other controllable risk factors.

Lifestyle risk factors may be most important to women already at high risk due to family history or breast cancer gene presence, factors which are beyond anyone’s control. Families who have a breast cancer gene tend to have several members with breast cancer diagnosed before menopause.

Learn more about breast cancer risks.

Can breast cancer be prevented?

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, however; knowing your risk factors can help you develop a medical plan with your health care professional that includes preventative screening. Early detection and prompt treatment can save lives when breast cancer occurs.

It is increasingly common for women who are at higher-than-average risk of breast cancer to be prescribed Tamoxifen and Raloxifene. These drugs are approved to help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Women at extremely high risk of breast cancer sometimes opt for a preventive mastectomy (surgery to remove one or both breasts).

If you are concerned about preventing breast cancer, make an appointment with an RWJBarnabas Health physician to discuss.

Is breast cancer inherited?

All cancers involve changes in a person's genes. Usually, several changes are required before cancer develops. If a person inherits a genetic mutation from a parent, that person has a higher risk of developing cancer. It is currently believed that less than 10% of breast cancers involve an inherited genetic mutation.

Learn more about genetic testing for cancer.

How often should I have a mammogram?

Experts have different recommendations for mammography.

Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening every 2 years for women ages 50 to 74, while the American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening for women ages 45 to 54. However, screening recommendations can start at earlier ages if there are risk factors.

Women should talk with their doctors about personal risk factors before deciding when to start mammograms and how often to have them.

Find out more about mammogram recommendations.

Does it hurt to have a mammogram?

A mammogram may be slightly uncomfortable, but it shouldn't hurt. To get a clear picture, the breast is compressed between two flat plates. It lasts only a few seconds. It is a good idea to schedule a mammogram after your menstrual period when your breasts are less likely to be tender.

Find a facility to schedule a mammogram.

Does breastfeeding either cause or prevent breast cancer?

Some studies have found that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of breast cancer.

If you would like to discuss your breast cancer risks, find a physician near you.

Can injuries to the breast cause breast cancer?

Injuries to the breasts do not cause cancer to develop. Often injuries lead to the discovery of a tumor because it causes women to pay more attention to their breasts, but bumps and bruises do not cause tumors.

If you would like to discuss your breast cancer risks, find a physician near you.

What is a preventative mastectomy?

Preventive, or prophylactic, mastectomy is the removal of one or both breasts to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer. Some women who have a very high risk of breast cancer choose this option.

Women who consider preventive mastectomy are often also advised about preventive oophorectomy—removal of the ovaries. This is considered because women with genes for breast cancer risk may also be at high risk for ovarian cancer.

Find a health professional to discuss if preventative mastectomy might be right for you.

Can breast cancer be cured?

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer in the early stages are alive after five years. Many women with breast cancer will be successfully treated and never experience breast cancer again; however, reoccurrence is always a possibility.

At this time, there is no cure for women whose breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Still, many of these women can live for many years, undergoing treatment for breast cancer as a chronic illness.

Learn more about breast cancer statistics.

Can my doctor tell if I have cancer without doing a biopsy?

A biopsy is the only way to be sure if a breast change or lump is cancer. By feeling the lump, it is possible for the doctor to determine if the lump is suspicious, but not if it is cancer.

Learn more about the steps used to diagnose breast cancer.

Why is chemotherapy such a lengthy treatment?

Cancer cells divide quickly, but they also take "rests" between divisions, just like healthy cells do. During these resting periods, the cancer cells are relatively safe from chemotherapy drugs, which only attack tumor cells that are growing or dividing.

Chemotherapy is administered over a period of months to reduce the chance that resting cells will be left behind and cause a recurrence.

Learn more about cancer treatments.

Where is the best place to receive treatment?

The decision of where to receive cancer treatment is highly individual, and the factors considered vary from person-to- person.

However, if the patient lives near a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, such as the Rutgers Cancer Center of New Jersey (a partner of RWJBarnabas Health), he or she has access to the latest cancer treatment, research, and clinical trials that are not available elsewhere in New Jersey.

Find an RWJBarnabas Health facility near you.

How does diet affect breast cancer?

Studies indicate that diet may be a factor in breast cancer, but results are mixed.

Obesity, however, has been linked to increased breast cancer risk in studies. So, a diet that maintains a healthy weight may help decrease the risk of breast cancer.

Learn more about breast cancer risk factors.

Do men ever get breast cancer?

Yes. According to the American Cancer Society, over 2,500 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Learn more about breast cancer in men.

What role does estrogen replacement therapy play in breast cancer?

Each woman should work with her health care provider to evaluate individual risk factors when making decisions about hormone replacement therapy. If hormone therapy is used, it is usually recommended to use the lowest effective dose to control symptoms for as short a time as possible.

Learn more about breast cancer risk factors.

What are cancer clinical trials?

Clinical trials study new kinds of cancer treatments.

Doctors conduct clinical trials to learn how well new treatments work and to study their side effects. If a clinical trial result looks promising, it is compared to the results and side effects of current therapies.

People who participate in clinical studies may benefit from access to new treatments before FDA approval. Participants also help further our understanding of cancer and help future cancer patients.

Find a cancer clinical trial.

Should everyone get a second opinion?

Many people with cancer get a second opinion from another doctor, and there are several reasons to do so.

A popular purpose is to simply get another cancer specialist’s opinion on the diagnosis and treatment plan to see if it is similar to the first opinion. Patients often feel more comfortable with their treatment if they know other doctors agree with it.

Never worry about hurting your doctor’s feelings if you request a second opinion. Many physicians appreciate having opinions of other professionals, and do not view a second opinion as a criticism of their diagnosis.

Looking for a second opinion? Find a cancer specialist near you.

How can someone get a second opinion?

Common ways to find a physician who can offer a second opinion:

  • Ask your primary care provider. He or she may be able to recommend a specialist. Often, primary care physicians have a network of surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists they work with regularly
  • Call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service at 800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237). They have information about treatment facilities and other programs supported by the National Cancer Institute. Learn more about RWJBarnabas Health’s partnership with the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Jersey’s only NCI-designed Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Contact local resources. Patients can get names of doctors from local medical societies, nearby hospitals, medical schools, or cancer advocacy groups, as well as from other people who have had their type of cancer
Looking for a second opinion? Find a cancer specialist near you.



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