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What is breast cancer?

When cells begin to proliferate unnaturally in the breasts, cancer can form as a tumor that is often identified through touch (a “lump”), but can also be identified through breast imaging. Many breast lumps are non-cancerous, but it’s important to follow up with a doctor if you find anything abnormal at all in your breasts.

Are you at risk for breast cancer?

While some of the risk factors are known, as many as 75 percent of women who get breast cancer do not have any of these risk factors. The bottom line is any woman is at risk. Breast cancer continues to be the most common cancer affecting women in the United States, with about 300,000 new cases diagnosed yearly. Approximately one in eight women will eventually develop the disease.

While the causes for the disease are not completely understood at this time, some risk factors are known.

These risk factors include:

  • A close relative who has had breast cancer doubles risk of developing the disease.
  • Two or more close relatives who had breast cancer triples your risk.
  • Hereditary genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BCRA2 are believed to contribute to the risk of breast cancer development.
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Some common lifestyle risk factors include:

  • Alcohol consumption – Women who have 2-3 drinks per day have around a 20% higher risk of getting cancer than non-drinkers.
  • Obesity – Being overweight after menopause may increase your risk of cancer.
  • Lack of exercise – Regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of breast cancer, especially in older women who have undergone menopause.
  • Not having children – Women who have never had kids, or who had their first child after age 30 have a slighter higher risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Not breastfeeding – Studies have shown that breastfeeding your baby may slightly reduce the risk of breast cancer.
  • Using birth control – Birth control methods using hormones may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Hormone therapy after menopause – The use of combined hormone therapies after menopause can increase breast cancer risk, typically after 4 years of use.

What are the treatment options for breast cancer?

The type and location of the cancer will determine the treatment approach. Many women undergo surgery to remove a tumor, which may be combined with radiation. Drugs, such as chemotherapy, can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body, and can be applied directly into the bloodstream, or taken orally. Hormone therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy are other options.

The goal of breast cancer surgery is to remove the entire cancer from the breast. There are two types of surgery to achieve this:

  • Lumpectomy (surgery to remove a portion of the breast)

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  • Mastectomy (surgery to remove the entire breast)

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What are the options for breast reconstruction after breast cancer?

The choice of which reconstruction approach to use is highly individual and will be based on a detailed consultation with your surgeon. Your surgeon will explain the benefits and drawbacks of each type of procedure (implant reconstruction, hybrid reconstruction, autologous flap reconstruction), and will discuss the recovery time and results for each. 

Below are some of the factors to consider when choosing your reconstruction method:

  • Your health – Certain illnesses, conditions or lifestyle choices (such as smoking) may affect the path you take during your reconstruction
  • The size and location of the cancer
  • The size of your breasts
  • The type of surgery performed, either lumpectomy or mastectomy
  • Whether you undergo radiation or chemotherapy
  • The amount of donor fat available for autologous reconstruction
  • Whether one or both breasts are affected by cancer
  • Your desired recovery time
  • Whether you want to undergo mastectomy and reconstruction simultaneously 

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