Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness and Risk Reduction

Appointment New Patient Appointment or 214-645-8300

Breast cancer develops in the cells of the breast. Most breast cancer starts in the lobules (milk glands) or ducts, the passages that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple. Less often, it begins in the connective tissues of the breast, known as the stromal tissue. Breast cancer might spread to the lymph nodes in the underarm, as well as to other parts of the body.

Awareness and risk reduction are two effective tools in the fight against breast cancer.

People can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by making certain lifestyle changes. It’s also important to detect breast cancer early through screening methods. Screening helps identify breast cancer before there are symptoms or at a very early stage, when the chances for successful treatment are highest.

Reducing the Risk of Breast Cancer

It’s natural to be concerned about breast cancer and to take steps toward prevention by lowering risk. Some risk factors, such as family history, can't be changed. However, some lifestyle changes might help reduce risk. These include:

  • Limiting alcohol
  • Not smoking
  • Controlling your weight
  • Getting physical activity
  • Breastfeeding
  • Limiting dose and duration of hormone therapy 

Talk to a doctor about your risks for breast cancer or make an appointment with our cancer genetics experts if you have a family history of the disease. Board-certified genetics counselors are trained to identify high-risk families and help them understand their risk of developing cancer as well as their options for prevention, early detection, and treatment. 

Screening for Breast Cancer

Getting screened for breast cancer is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Breast cancer screening methods include a clinical breast examination, mammography, and other imaging techniques. 

UT Southwestern’s Center for Breast Care at Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center recommends a clinical breast exam starting at age 20 along with an annual mammogram starting at age 45 for women at average risk for breast cancer. Women at higher risk should talk to their doctors about a more frequent screening schedule and additional testing, and may want to start annual mammograms at age 40.

Our Center is uniquely equipped to screen high-risk patients using enhanced surveillance methods. If you are at high risk or need to determine your risk, our Cancer Genetics Program (CGP) is one of the fastest-growing cancer clinical genetics programs in the nation and can answer all of your hereditary breast cancer questions. Our genetics team sees more than 3,700 patients each year – which means we help more patients than most genetics and hereditary cancer programs in the country. We offer genetic counseling, genetic testing, high-risk cancer management, and guidance and support for patients and their families. A dedicated patient navigator helps patients schedule and stay on top of their medical appointments, and patients can take part in clinical trials, should they choose to do so.

Clinical Breast Exam

A clinical breast exam is a physical examination of the breast performed by a health care professional to check for lumps or other changes. It’s recommended with routine gynecology exams at one- to three-year intervals in women ages 20 to 39. These exams can be performed by an Ob/Gyn or primary care doctor, a nurse practitioner, or a physician assistant. 

Checking one’s own breasts for lumps or other unusual changes is called a breast self-exam. This type of exam cannot replace regular clinical breast exams or mammograms. In clinical trials, breast self-exams alone were not found to help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer. 

Mammograms

Mammograms use X-rays to create an image of the breast tissue that can reveal abnormalities long before you or your doctor can feel them.

All mammograms performed at UT Southwestern are digital and are reviewed by a specialized radiologist dedicated to breast imaging. 

With digital mammograms, the images are recorded directly into a computer, allowing our radiologists to view them on a screen so that specific areas can be enlarged or highlighted. If there is a suspicious area, we can easily take a closer look. 

To ensure the highest possible level of accuracy, all breast cancer screening mammograms are read independently by two or more UT Southwestern breast imaging radiologists. Our radiologists are accredited by the American College of Radiology.

Tomosynthesis, or what is more commonly known as 3-D mammography, is also available at UT Southwestern. It is an extension of a digital mammogram in which X-ray machines are used to take pictures of thin slices of the breast from different angles. We use computer software to reconstruct the image, making it three-dimensional and allowing doctors to see dense areas more clearly. It’s an enhanced screening option for women with dense breast tissue or those at higher risk for breast cancer. 

Learn more about what to expect before, during, and after a mammogram.

Mobile Mammography Unit

We offer a mobile mammography program that brings mammograms to workplaces, churches, community outreach events, and other locations via our customized 18-wheeler. The mobile unit is equipped with the same state-of-the-art digital technology we offer at the Center for Breast Care.

For more information or to schedule our mobile mammography unit to come to your location or event, please call 214-645-2560

Other Imaging Techniques

While mammograms are currently the most useful tests for screening for and detecting breast cancer early, other imaging tests might be helpful in some cases. These other tests are particularly helpful for women who are at higher risk for breast cancer, have had breast cancer before, or have dense breast tissue.

The other imaging tests include:

  • Breast MRI, which uses magnets and radio waves to create 3-D images of breast tissue
  • Breast ultrasound, also known as sonography, which uses sound waves to create pictures of breast tissue 

UT Southwestern offers both types of mammograms, and our doctors work with patients to determine if they need screening with the additional techniques. 

In addition, we routinely perform biopsies for evaluation of lesions at our imaging units.