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self-breast-exam“Feel your boobies.” I remember first seeing a breast cancer awareness car magnet while finishing my P3 year of pharmacy school in Winchester, VA. Admittedly direct, the magnet certainly piqued my curiosity for and awareness of breast cancer. Shortly after observing that magnet about raising breast cancer awareness, I received an e-mail for a breast cancer bowling fundraiser hosted by one of the pharmacy school organizations. And what was the name of the event? “Bowling for Boobs” – and they even had t-shirts for the event!

To say I was speechless is an understatement, but I also have to admire the candid broadcasting of raising breast cancer awareness. After doing my own general research of breast cancer and why awareness is important, I now join the millions of women and men to raise breast cancer awareness. Quite directly, to fulfill my role to “save the tatas.” Similar to my article on celiac disease, I would like to arrange this article in a question & answer format to equip pharmacists with information about breast cancer, thereby educating their patients and raising awareness.

What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a cancer in which the cancer cells form in the breast.

Is it true that men can be diagnosed with breast cancer?
Although rare, there are over 2,000 annual cases of breast cancer in men, which accounts for 1% of all breast cancer cases.

Why is breast cancer awareness important?
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, with one in every eight women being diagnosed annually; furthermore, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women. Due to public support for breast cancer awareness, diagnosing breast cancer has improved; moreover, survival rates among women diagnosed with breast cancer continues to increase while the rate of deaths due to breast cancer continues to decrease.

How is breast cancer detected?
In the setting of a doctor’s office, women can receive a mammogram (breast cancer screening). Mammograms are now recommended every year for women over 40 years of age, where the previous recommendations were every one to two years starting for women over 40 and then every year for women over 50.
At home, women can perform breast self-examination to check for any lumps in their breasts. By doing this, doctors can make notes and track any potential progression of tumor development. Women should first consult their doctor before receiving a mammogram or performing self-examination.

Tests and procedures used to diagnose breast cancer include:
* Breast examination
* Mammogram
* Breast ultrasound, MRI, and biopsy (sampling of breast cells)

Who is at a greater chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer?
The risk factors listed below have the chances to increase a woman’s likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer:
* A family history of breast cancer
* A history of early menarche (first period) before 12 years of age and/or late menopause after 55 years of age
* Genetic mutations (i.e. mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2, and HER2)
* Previous exposure to radiation
* Having your first child at an older age or never being pregnant
* Drinking alcohol
* Being on postmenopausal hormonal therapy

Even though these circumstances may increase a person’s chance for developing breast cancer, they do not guarantee them being diagnosed with breast cancer.

What are some complications with breast cancer?
In mild cases, tumors detected in the breast may continue to grow and press on other parts of your body and may cause pain. These tumors are known as benign tumors and are initially not cancerous. In cancerous tumors, or malignant tumors, the tumors begin to grow, invade, and damage surrounding tissue.In severe complications, malignant tumors may travel to other parts of the body, invade and damage those cells; breast cancer has now become a malignant cancer.

I have heard about doctors sampling lymph nodes; why is this important?
The circulatory system distributes blood throughout your body to give oxygen to cells throughout your body, cells to help fight off infections, and stop any bleeding when you begin to bleed. In the same way, the lymph system distributes fluids and cells to fight against diseases. Lymph nodes are in your body to mainly carry abnormal cells (like malignant cells) away from healthy tissue (like breast tissue). So when a doctor removes a lymph node and tests it, they can determine how much the cancer has worsened.

How can breast cancer be treated?
In early detection, the tumor is at a specific site in the body; therefore, surgery and radiation are usually recommended to remove the tumor without affecting the rest of the body. If the cancer advances, where the tumor invades the rest of the body, then treatment involves various types of therapy, such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Surgery and radiation can then be used to destroy tumors at specific sites.

What can you do to reduce their chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer?
*Ask your doctor about mammograms and how to perform a breast self-exam
* Maintain a proper healthy weight through proper diet and exercise
* Drink alcohol in moderation
* If you are post-menopausal, do not take any medications for hormone replacement

Found an error in this article? Please contact us!

Last updated October 2013


American Cancer Society. (2013, October 1). How is breast cancer treated? American Cancer Society. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from

Lippman M.E. (2012). Chapter 90. Breast Cancer. In D.L. Longo, A.S. Fauci, D.L. Kasper, S.L. Hauser, J.L. Jameson, J. Loscalzo (Eds), Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 18e. Retrieved October 21, 2013 from http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=9115866.

Mayo Clinic (2013, May 22). Breast cancer. Mayo Clinic Staff. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/breast-cancer/DS00328.

National Breast Cancer Foundation. (2012). About Breast Cancer. National Breast Cancer Foundation. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/about-breast-cancer.

Image “Sexy Lady Holding Breast With Hands” courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net