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For the week of: 9/18/99

Question: "If someone has been treated for cancer in one breast and develops calcifications in the other breast, do they have a greater chance of having breast cancer?"

 

Answer: The overall incidence of breast cancer in females is 1 in 9 or 11% over the course of a lifetime. It is second to lung cancer as the most common cancer in women.

If someone has been treated for cancer in one breast, then their chances of having a cancer in the opposite breast is increased by approximately three times to 1 in 3 (33%) over the course of a lifetime. 

For this reason, all ladies who have had breast cancer are followed closely for the rest of their life by their treating physicians. The fact that someone has been treated for cancer in one breast and then develops calcifications in the other breast does not, however, mean that they necessarily have another breast cancer.

Microcalcifications in the breast will represent a benign process such as mastitis or fibrocystic disease 84% of the time. This means that 16% of the time, however, they could represent the early change of a pre-malignant or malignant process. 

For this reason, they are taken seriously and will need to be further evaluated. This evaluation is determined by your personal physician, but could include follow up x-rays, a core biopsy by the radiologist, or surgical excision by the surgeon.

If someone has been treated for cancer in one breast and then develops a cancer in the other breast, their chances of a cure are still very good if the cancer is caught early. The development of a cancer in the opposite breast does not represent a recurrence or spread of the original breast cancer, it is an entirely new cancer.

By G. Steven Webb, M.D.
General Surgeon
General Surgery Group. P.A.

 

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