The Fight Against Breast Cancer


Dr. Mirtha Gonzalez
Houston Dermatology and Plastic Surgery

Did you know one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime?

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and is the second leading cause of cancer death (following skin cancer) among women.  Genetic and environmental/lifestyle factors contribute to the risk of breast cancer.  Genetic factors that cannot be changed include gender, age, race, family history, personal history, menstrual/reproductive history, genetic mutations (BRCA genes), exposure to estrogen and dense breast tissue. Environmental risk factors that can be controlled include diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, alcohol intake, radiation to chest and hormone replacement therapy.

Fortunately, screening tests exist that can help detect cancer at an early stage when it can be treated and may be cured.   After a patient has completed treatment, many often decide to undergo breast reconstruction.  As plastic surgeons, we have the privilege of being part of a patient’s breast cancer journey by participating in restoration of their body.

Self-Exams and Mammograms

Breast self-exams should be part of your monthly health care routine.  According to the American Cancer Society, any of the following unusual changes in the breast can be a symptom of breast cancer:

  • Lump
  • Hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling of all or part of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
  • Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • A nipple discharge that starts suddenly

Sometimes these changes also can be signs of less serious conditions; however, it is important to get any breast changes checked promptly by a doctor.

Mammography is the most commonly used test to screen for breast cancer. Mammograms can detect breast cancer early, possibly before it has spread. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that every woman, starting at age 40, receive a screening mammogram. The earlier breast cancer is found and diagnosed, the better the chances of beating it.

Male Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in men is very rare; less than one percent of all breast cancers occur in men. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in men is one in 833.

A number of factors can increase a man’s risk of getting breast cancer, including growing older, high estrogen levels, strong family history of breast cancer or genetic mutations, radiation exposure and Klinefelter syndrome.

Male breast cancer can exhibit the same symptoms as breast cancer in women. In men, breast cancer is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola.  Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer and carry a higher mortality than women.  Later detection of breast cancer in men is due to lack of awareness among men, and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.

Anyone who notices anything unusual about their breasts, whether male or female, should contact their physician immediately. Visit cancer.org for more information on breast cancer.