STEEPLECHASE CANCER CENTER
30 Rehill Avenue, Suite 3400
Somerville, NJ 08876
Phone: (908) 725-2400
Fax: (908) 927-8990
Monday - Friday
9:00am - 4:30pm
The breasts rest over the chest muscles that cover the ribs. Each breast is made of 15 to 20 lobes. Lobes contain many smaller lobules. Lobules contain groups of glands and duct that can produce milk. Milk flows from the glands through thin tubes called ducts to the nipple. The nipple is in the center of a dark area of skin called the areola. Fat fills the spaces between the lobules and ducts.
The breasts also contain lymph vessels. These vessels lead to small, round organs called lymph nodes. Groups of lymph nodes are near the breast in the axilla (underarm), above the collarbone, in the chest behind the breastbone, and in many other parts of the body. The lymph nodes trap bacteria, cancer cells, or other harmful substances.
Women 40 and older should have mammograms every year. A mammogram is a picture of the breast made with x-rays.
Women who are younger than 40 and have risk factors for breast cancer should ask their health care provider whether to have mammograms and how often to have them.
Mammograms can often show a breast lump before it can be felt. They also can show a cluster of tiny specks of calcium. These specks are called microcalcifications. Lumps or specks can be caused by cancer, precancerous cells, or other conditions. Further tests are needed to find out if abnormal cells are present.
If an abnormal area shows up on your mammogram, you may need to have more x-rays. You also may need a biopsy. A biopsy is the only way to tell for sure if cancer is present.
Mammograms are the best tool doctors have to find breast cancer early. However, mammograms are not perfect:
A mammogram may miss some cancers. (The result is called a "false negative and occurs 11-13 % of the time.")
A mammogram may show things that turn out not to be cancer. (The result is called a "false positive.")
Some fast-growing tumors may grow large or spread to other parts of the body before a mammogram detects them.
A mammogram may be normal or a false negative which is why breast exams by a physician are also necessary as that may be the only way a cancer is detected.
During a clinical breast exam, your doctor checks your breasts. You may be asked to raise your arms over your head, let them hang by your sides, or press your hands against your hips.
Your doctor looks for differences in size or shape between your breasts. The skin of your breasts is checked for a rash, dimpling, or other abnormal signs. Your nipples may be squeezed to check for fluid.
Using the pads of the fingers to feel for lumps, your physician checks your entire breast, underarm, and collarbone area. A lump is generally the size of a pea before anyone can feel it. Your physician checks the lymph nodes near the breast to see if they are enlarged.
You may perform monthly breast self-exams to check for any changes in your breasts. It is important to remember that changes can occur because of aging, your menstrual cycle. pregnancy, menopause, or taking birth control pills or other hormones. It is normal for breasts to feel a little lumpy and uneven. Also, it is common for your breasts to be swollen and tender right before or during your menstrual period.
You should contact your health care provider if you notice any unusual changes in your breasts.
Breast self-exams cannot replace regular screening mammograms and clinical breast exams.