Early detection saves lives

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Reviewed by: Tara Kaufmann, MD, MSCE
Written by: Ashley Lawrence

A graphic reading "Breast Cancer Awareness Month" and containing a colorful, impressionistic image of a group of women with their arms around one another's shoulders.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month occurs every October. During this time, people all over the world come together to raise awareness about the disease, to garner support, and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure. Breast cancer is currently the second-most common cancer diagnosed in women globally. In the United States, over 280,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 49,000 cases of non-invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women by the end of 2021. Additionally, 2,650 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men (yes, men can get breast cancer, too!).

There’s a common misconception that only women with a family history of breast cancer are at risk of developing breast cancer. (Ladies, don’t believe everything you read!) Approximately 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, meaning they are caused by pathogenic variants (or mutations) in certain genes. (When genes have pathogenic variants, it causes the genes to become non-functional, or not function the way they should, which leads to an increased risk for developing cancer.) The other 90-95% of breast cancers occur in patients with no known family history.

If you haven’t done so and are in need of an annual screening mammogram, schedule that appointment! Not sure if now’s the time to begin implementing annual screening mammograms? UT Health Austin board-certified medical oncologist Tara Kaufmann, MD, MSCE, who specializes in breast cancer, is happy to help!

“Generally, women at the age of 40 should speak to their primary care or ob-gyn provider about whether they should begin scheduling annual screening mammograms, as guidelines differ on the age at which women should start screening mammograms and the decision to begin is a shared decision between you and your healthcare provider who takes into account your breast cancer risk factors,” explains Dr. Kaufmann. “In general, guidelines recommend beginning annual screening mammograms for breast cancer between the ages of 40-50 years old. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer involving a mother or sister, it is recommended that you begin scheduling screening mammographs when you reach 10 years younger than the age at which they were diagnosed or by the time you reach the age of 40, whichever comes first.”

UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes has recently launched a Breast Cancer specialty that provides care for adult patients of all genders with a breast cancer diagnosis, including DCIS, early stage, recurrent, and advanced or metastatic breast cancers, as well as those patients who have inherited gene mutations that confer a high risk of developing a breast cancer, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Led by Dr. Kaufmann, the Breast Cancer care team is dedicated to coordinating patient care from the time of diagnostic biopsy, throughout treatment, and into survivorship.

“When you get screened for breast cancer regularly, you increase your chance of surviving a breast cancer diagnosis, as screening mammograms can detect cancer at early stages, oftentimes revealing a lump before it is felt,” says Dr. Kaufmann. “When breast cancer is detected early at a localized stage, the cancer is treatable and has a high likelihood of being cured without the risk of the cancer returning. Between screenings, if you notice any new lumps, swelling, redness, skin changes, nipple discharge, or other symptoms in one or both breasts, you should reach out to your healthcare provider right away.”

UT Health Austin’s Imaging Services offers the latest in 3D mammography technology for screening mammograms. 3D mammography, also known as tomosynthesis, creates a 3D image of the breast using X-rays, allowing radiologists to receive a clearer image so that they can detect suspicious masses or cancer earlier. Additionally, tomosynthesis offers better imaging for women with dense breasts because the X-rays are taken from multiple angles around the breast.

Dr. Kaufmann also served as a Co-Investigator on the 2020-2021 CHER grant team that partnered with the Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC) to address the unmet needs of young women being treated for breast cancer alongside collaborator and patient advocate Rebecca Muñoz whose journey with breast cancer has led to her passion for patient advocacy. Rebecca is also an active participant in the Livestrong Cancer Institutes’ Young Adult Cancer Program and serves on the Livestrong Cancer Institutes’ Young Adult Advisory Board, one of many resources available to patients and their families.

“I’m excited to be a part of the growth taking place at UT Health Austin,” shares Dr. Kaufmann “and I look forward to experiencing the impact this new Breast Cancer specialty will make for patients with a breast cancer diagnosis in the Austin area and beyond.”

Getting Involved

<br>There are several ways in which you can get involved and raise awareness about breast cancer this October:

  1. Volunteer
  2. Make a donation or host a fundraiser
  3. Educate yourself and others about the importance of screening mammograms
  4. Share your cancer experience
  5. Get involved in breast cancer research
  6. Fund research initiatives
  7. Participate in a local walk or run

Not sure where to start? Check out these national nonprofits that support breast cancer in the areas of research, community health, global outreach, public policy, and more:

To schedule a screening mammogram through UT Health Austin’s Imaging Center, please call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

For more information about UT Health Austin’s Hereditary Cancer Screening and Risk Reduction service, please call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

For more information about the Breast Cancer specialty within UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes, please call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.