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Breast Cancer FAQs

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I have no health insurance.  Is there anyway I can get a mammogram?

If you live in Rhode Island, are 40 years old or more and meet income eligibility guidelines, you are eligible for the Women’s Cancer Screening Program.  You will have access to a clinical breast exam, mammogram, Pap smear, pelvic exam and any required follow-up services such as a repeat mammogram, breast ultrasound, biopsy, repeat Pap smear, and colposcopy. You can reach them by calling 401-222-4324 and for the hearing impaired, call 1-800-745-5555.

If you live in Massachusetts, the Women’s Health Network  provides free breast and cervical cancer screening, diagnostic services and health education to low income, uninsured or underinsured women at local health centers, hospitals and community agencies throughout Massachusetts.  You can contact them at 1-877-414-4447, 617-624-5406, or for the hearing impaired at 617-624-5992.


If you live in Connecticut, the Connecticut Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides free breast and cervical cancer screening, diagnostic services and health education to low income, uninsured or underinsured women at local health centers, hospitals and community agencies throughout the state.  You can contact the Connecticut Department of Public Health at 1-860-509-8000 for eligibility requirements and locations of contracted health providers.


Other states may have free access to mammograms.  Check with your state health department.

No one in my family has ever had breast cancer.  Why do I have to get screened?

It is important to know your family history because we know that if a first degree relative (mother, father, sister, brother, daughter and/or son) is diagnosed with breast cancer, it raises your risk.  Your genetic history for the breast cancer genes – particularly BRCA-1 and/or BRCA-2 – is also important information if any family member has been tested.  This is information that you need to share with your health professional (doctor, physician assistant, nurse practitioner).


Having no one in your family diagnosed with breast cancer is not a guarantee that you will not be diagnosed with the disease.  Statistics indicate that approximately 80% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have NO family history nor does their family have the identified gene(s).  You are still at risk and should follow the three-method screening practice:

  • Monthly breast self-exams

  • Annual clinical breast exam

  • Annual mammogram, beginning at age 40 if you have no risk factors


If you are at higher risk (family history, BRCA-1/BRCA-2 genes, family history of ovarian cancer or prostate cancer, race/ethnicity at higher risk, early onset of menstruation before 11 years of age, late onset of menopause) your first mammogram should be done at an earlier age.

Why are more women in Rhode Island diagnosed with breast cancer than in other parts of the country?

We don’t know for sure but there are several theories under research.


Because of the state’s Women’s Cancer Screening Program that provides free mammograms and does extensive outreach to the underserved population, Rhode Island women have more access to screening than in some other states.  This may account for more women being diagnosed with breast cancer.


Though women are diagnosed in their 20s, 30s and 40s your risk of breast cancer increases as you age.  Rhode Islanders live longer than people in other states.  This increases your risk.


There is also some thought that because Rhode Island was a large manufacturing state, our environment may have been affected by toxins from the past that are affecting us today.

Do men get breast cancer?

Yes, men do get breast cancer.  Approximately 1-2% of people diagnosed with breast cancer are men, whose risk is 1 in 1000.  Their risk factors include family history (mother, father, sister, brother, daughter and/or son), having the BRCA-1 and/or BRCA-2 genes in the family, aging, exposure to estrogen (through hormone therapy for prostate cancer or in transgender procedures), and Kleinfelter’s Syndrome (men born with more than one copy of the X chromosome).  For men who have the BRCA-2 gene, their risk for prostate cancer also increases.


Symptoms in men are the same as for women:  lump in the breast tissue, skin changes to the breast, watery or bloody nipple discharge or a red rash on the skin covering breast tissue.


Men at normal risk should do monthly breast self-exams and have an annual clinical exam.  For a man who is at higher risk, the doctor may order a mammogram or a breast ultrasound.  Men die more often from breast cancer than women because their disease is usually diagnosed at a later stage.  This is largely due to irregular screening of men’s breast tissue.

When should I do a breast self-exam?

Women should do a breast exam once each month.  If she is still having her periods, she should wait 7 to 10 days after it ends to do her exam since her breasts may be sensitive during her period, making the exam painful. For women who have experienced menopause, we suggest she use her birthdate, i.e. if her birthdat is on June 1, on the 1st of each month, she should perform a self-breast exam.


Men also should do a breast exam once each month.  He also should use his birthdate, i.e. for a man whose birthdate is January 9, he would perform his breast self-exam on the 9th of each month.


We recommend breast self-exam as one of three parts of breast health screening:

  • Monthly breast self-exam

  • Annual clinical exam by a health professional

  • Mammogram when appropriate

By using all three screening tools, you increase your chances of finding your breast cancer early.

Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk of developing breast cancer?

There are risk factors that cannot be changed:  family history, genetic history, race/ethnicity, age, menstrual and/or reproductive history, or a personal history of cancer.


Research has shown there are some lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk and/or keep your body healthy so if you are diagnosed, you can rely on it through your treatment.  These are:

  • Eat a low fat, high fiber diet

  • Limit your consumption of alcohol

  • Do not use tobacco products

  • Exercise

Do breast implants increase your risk of breast cancer?

Implants do not increase your risk of breast cancer but can make it more difficult to detect tumors.  Be sure if you change doctors you tell them that you have implants. You should also inform your mammography technician that you have the implants.

Will repeated injuries to my chest area cause breast cancer?

Injuries to the breast area do not cause breast cancer.  If someone bruises her/his breast, they may go to the doctor who sends them for an x-ray.  If they have not had a mammogram recently, it may find an already existing tumor that is not caused by the accident.

Does wearing an underwire bra cause breast cancer?

There is no affiliation between the type of bra you wear and breast cancer.

Does wearing a bra to bed cause breast cancer?

Some women believe that the bra restricts the flow of blood to the breast area, which causes breast cancer.  This is not true.

Are there any other symptoms of breast cancer than lumps?

Yes, there are several.  Lumps are the most common symptom of breast cancer, though not all lumps are cancerous.  Other symptoms include watery or bloody discharge from the nipple, a change in the shape or size of the breast, dimpling of the skin, or a rash on the surface of the breast.  Like lumps, not all symptoms are cancerous but should be discussed with a medical professional.

Does taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives) increase my risk of breast cancer?

Research continues to study the effects of oral contraceptives use in breast cancer.  There is conflicting evidence on whether a woman’s risk is increased when using oral contraceptives.  We suggest that you discuss your concerns with your medical professional who knows your family, your menstrual and reproductive histories and can make appropriate recommendations.

How can I prevent breast cancer?

There is no known method of preventing breast cancer.

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