Beware - Be Aware - of Breast Changes

Breast self exams important for phyllodes tumors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) With all the controversy about mammogram screenings, one of the most important tools a woman has in the detection of breast cancer isn't receiving the attention it needs. Breast self-exams are still vitally important for all women.

A new study has found that a rare form of breast cancer (phyllodes tumors) is most prevalent in Hispanic women. Most of these cancers are found through breast self-exams, a critical tool for women under the age of 40 and all women, especially those who are uninsured and don't receive regular mammograms.

"Look, feel and report any changes in your breasts."

The retrospective study reviewed the records of all patients diagnosed with and treated for phyllodes tumors at Moffitt Cancer Center (MCC) in Tampa, Florida and the Cancer Therapy and Research Center, University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio (UTHSCSA) between 1999 and 2010.

Of all the patients studied, the mean (in the middle) age was 44. Among participants, 42 percent were Caucasian, 43 percent were Hispanic and 12 percent were African-American.

The study focused on the race-related differences relating to cancerous and non-cancerous breast pathologies. Little is known about the exceedingly rare phyllodes tumors, except that they are unpredictable and have recurrence rates of up to 40 percent.

Researchers found that a higher percentage of malignant tumors were seen in Hispanic women, who also tended to have larger and faster growing tumors. As a result of these findings, the conclusion was that  Hispanic women are more susceptible to this rare for of breast cancer.

Cary Kaufman, M.D., a breast surgeon and specialist at Bellingham Regional Breast Center in Washington, has an interesting perspective on this study, which differs slightly from the authors' conclusions. He points out that the women who were treated at MCC were mostly insured, while the women who went to UTHSCSA were more likely to be poor and uninsured. So Dr. Kaufman concludes the differences highlighted in the study weren't race-related differences so much as socioeconomic differences.

He notes that poorer women who don't have access to regular medical care are often diagnosed with larger tumors that are more difficult to treat.

"For women under the age of 40 and women who are uninsured, the only thing they have to detect breast cancer is a physical breast exam that either they or their doctor performs," said Dr. Kaufman, who is the Chair of the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, told dailyRx.

He urges women to be aware of their breasts, and if they notice anything unusual - "anything that hasn't been there all your life" - get it looked at. "Breast self-exam is critical for all women," Dr. Kaufman says, "for detecting any breast abnormalities."

The study regarding phyllodes tumors is published in the October issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 21, 2011
Last Updated:
November 10, 2011