Breast Health

Dr. Jan Huston Answers Frequently Asked Questions About Breast Health


What kind of lifestyle changes can reduce breast cancer risk?

The main risks for breast cancer are being a women and getting older. One in eight of us will be diagnosed with breast cancer during our lifetime and two thirds of breast cancer is diagnosed in women over age 50. The other somewhat significant risk factors are out of our control - such as age at first menstrual period and age you had your first baby etc. I advise women to  " wear your seatbelt, don't smoke and have a heart healthy diet and excise" There is data to suggest that eating a lower fat diet, consuming little alcohol, regular exercise  and maintaining a normal weight decreases the risk of breast cancer. More important, this advice is good for your heart. Thirty percent of us will die of heart disease. Three percent of us will die of breast cancer.

What If My Mammogram Shows Something Abnormal?

Don’t panic. Call our office at 973-873-7787. We schedule immediate appointments for any recommended diagnostic tests. At HackensackUMC Mountainside, ultrasound-guided biopsy, stereotactic biopsy and, if indicated, MRI-guided biopsy, are available. Immediately following your diagnostic studies, a radiologist or nurse navigator will sit down with you and go over your results.

When Will I Get My Mammogram Results?

Breast Center patients are notified by mail within 2-3 days of normal results. If results are abnormal, patients will receive a phone call within 72 hours.  

What is a mammogram and why is it so important?

A mammogram is low dose radiation that with compression passes through normal breast tissue. Breast cancer or micro calcifications (which can be an early sign of cancer) are dense and block the radiation, so they’re visible against the background of the normal tissue. The cutting-edge mammography at HackensackUMC Mountainside can detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, before any symptoms ever appear. It’s estimated that one in eight women will be impacted by breast cancer in their lifetime, most over the age of 40. The good news? The survival rate for women who detect breast cancer early—with proven methods like mammography—is over 90%.

When do I need to start getting mammograms?

According to the American Cancer Society guidelines, annual mammograms are recommended for all women over the age of 40 for breast cancer detection and early intervention. At HackensackUMC Mountainside, we are known for having a very personal approach; our goal is to make having your yearly mammogram as pleasant and convenient as possible. In addition to our regular hours, evening appointments are available every other Wednesday.

How do I conduct a breast self-exam?

The following steps will help you perform the most effective breast self-exam. 1. Lie down, put the breast-side arm over your head, and use the flat of your hand to feel and examine. 2. Think of your breast as a ball of pizza dough, and pretend you're looking for a small diamond inside. 3. Use the flat surface of your hand—not your fingertips—to compress your “ball of dough” between your rib cage and your hand. A cancer may feel a wad of hard, dry chewing gum that is stuck in the “carpet” of your breast tissue. If you feel anything unfamiliar, don’t panic. Just make an appointment to see your doctor and have it checked out.

What are the appropriate screening and diagnostic tests for breast cancer?

Clinical exams and mammograms are the ONLY screening tests that increase survival from breast cancer. Evidence-based medicine, which we practice at HackensackUMC Mountainside, does not overprescribe unnecessary procedures for diagnostics. We are always keeping your best physical and mental health in mind. Ultrasound is used to further examine an area of concern detected by a mammogram or physical exam. At HackensackUMC Mountainside, ultrasound-guided biopsy, stereotactic biopsy and, if indicated, MRI-guided biopsy are available.

What are the most common types of breast cancer treatments?

The most common surgical treatment for cancer is “lumpectomy”, a breast-conserving surgical procedure. The surgeon removes just the tumor along with a small margin of healthy tissue to leave the remainder of the breast intact. Lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy has been proven to be just as effective as mastectomy in treating breast cancer. Hormone therapies slow or stop the growth of hormone receptor-positive tumors by preventing the cancer cells from using the hormones they need to grow. Chemotherapy involves a combination of anticancer drugs, given by mouth or by injection. Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, is a highly targeted and highly effective way to destroy cancer cells in the breast that may remain after surgery.

What is surgical breast reconstruction?

Reconstructive breast surgery, often called oncoplastic surgery, combines cosmetic techniques with breast surgical oncology. When a lumpectomy is performed the remaining tissue is advanced to realign the nipple and areola and restore a natural appearance to the breast shape. If a woman needs or chooses a mastectomy, skin and nipple sparing mastectomies are performed with immediate reconstruction by our plastic surgeons. The latest techniques, like those practiced at HackensackUMC Mountainside, can yield a beautiful cosmetic result with minimal scarring, and faster healing results.

Is breast pain a symptom of something serious?

Breast pain is among the most common reasons a woman might choose to see a breast specialist. Breast pain is a common characteristic of healthy breast tissue and is not typically a warning sign for breast cancer. Every woman is expected to experience it at sometime, and yes, it can feel very wrong. The pain can be an aching, burning, or sharp shooting pain. Hormonal changes, puberty, your monthly cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can all cause breast pain. Stress can also be a source of breast pain. The best treatments for breast pain are reassurance, Ibuprofen, heating pads or cold compression. A good fitting bra may also help. If there is an associated lump or mass or signs of an infection, see your doctor right away.

What is breast cancer genetic testing?

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which were only discovered in the 1990s, place women who carry these genes at very high risk for developing breast, ovarian, and possibly colon cancer. Only a very small percentage of women carry these genes, and only about 10% of breast cancers are caused by these mutated genes. A blood test or saliva sample can determine if the genes are present in your DNA. The criteria for being tested for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is based on your family and personal history. The risks for cancer that they represent, and the decision to have genetic testing should be made in close partnership with your doctor. At our Breast Center a genetic counselor is available to counsel women and their families who are at high risk, with or without the BRCA genes. Our medical director of the high risk program can tailor a plan for evidence-based surveillance.

When should I consider a mastectomy?

It is uncommon for a woman to medically require mastectomy. The survival rate for women who choose breast preservation and radiation is the same as those who have a mastectomy. If you test positive for the BRCA gene mutation, having mastectomies will decrease your chances of getting cancer. Your survival rate, however, will be no different than that of a woman who chooses close surveillance. A mastectomy may be recommended if a patient is elderly or ill and can’t be compliant with radiation therapy, if radiation is not available, if the woman has had previous radiation for breast cancer or another condition. It also is indicated if there’s a simultaneous diagnosis of two breast cancers far away from each other.

What is the best way to be breast cancer smart?

The best way to detect cancer early is with a yearly exam by your doctor and a yearly mammogram. These tests are proven to increase survival from breast cancer.  When detected early, the survival rate for breast cancer is 90% or more.  Be aware of changes in your breasts, and enjoy your life with a healthy, positive attitude.