Frequently Asked Questions
UW Health providers help dispel myths and answer questions about breast health, breast cancer and common procedures women may experience.
My grandma had breast cancer. Will I get it too?
There are many risk factors for breast cancer. Family history is only one of them. One of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer is gender. Most cases of breast cancer occur in women. Age is also a big risk factor. More than 80 percent of breast cancers occur in women older than 50. If your grandma had breast cancer after age 60, and there are no other cancers in the family, your risk for breast cancer is not increased.
Can the radiation from mammograms cause breast cancer?
Every day we are exposed to radiation. The amount received during a routine, four-view mammogram at UW Health is about the same as what we are exposed to over 2 or 3 days of daily living. Most people feel that the benefit of finding a breast cancer early outweighs the risk of exposure to radiation during screening mammograms.
When my doctor does my breast exam, she asks me if I have had any discharge from my nipples. Is that a sign of breast cancer?
Most women will have nipple discharge at some time. Often it is related to the hormone changes of adolescence, pregnancy, and/or menopause. You should tell your doctor about any discharge that comes out by itself, is only from one nipple or is only from one spot on your nipple. It may be due to a non cancerous growth. It is vital to have your doctor assess all changes in your breast, including a new onset of nipple discharge. They will then order the proper tests, if needed.
My sister went to her doctor because she was having breast pain. She was told not to worry about it. Is that true?
Nearly every woman will have some degree of breast pain in her lifetime. It rarely suggests breast cancer. There are three types of breast pain: pain that goes with the menstrual cycle, focal breast pain, and pain in the breast that starts outside of the breast.
- Pain with the menstrual cycle, or cyclic pain, is the most common. It is breast soreness before the onset of a woman's period. It is caused by the hormone changes of the menstrual cycle. Keeping a date book or journal can help you figure out if you have this type of pain.
- Focal pain is less common. It is described as a painful part of the breast that a woman can most often point to. The pain is constant and not related to changes in hormone levels. Trauma or a prior breast surgery can cause focal pain. Often there is no clear cause. Still, a breast exam by your doctor, with the proper tests for your age, should be done.
- Pain that starts outside of the breast, but feels like it is in the breast tissue, is the last type. This pain most often starts in the ribs and/or muscles of the chest wall and follows the nerves to the tissue of the breast where the pain is felt. An exam by your doctor will help find out if your pain starts outside of your breast tissue.
Do mammograms hurt?
Pain varies for everyone. Most women say the anticipation is worse than the procedure. Some pressure on the breast is needed in order to get good pictures. The person performing your exam is trained in mammography, so the study can be done quickly and with the least amount of pain.
Schedule your exam for 1 week after the start of your last period. Your breasts are the least tender, and this can help to reduce the pain you may have.
Eliminate coffee, tea and other products with caffeine from your diet for five days before the exam. Take an over-the-counter pain medicine one hour before your exam. These two actions may help with any pain. Please contact your primary care provider to discuss these options if you have any questions.