“There is Hope”: Knowledge & Encouragement from UAB on Breast Cancer

We are proud to partner with UAB Women & Infants. This is sponsored content.

Hope for Breast CancerDid you know that 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime? Being one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women, breast cancer has likely touched your life or someone you know. While the prevalence of this disease can be scary, we have some great medical resources to help us be informed and equipped. In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, we turned to the experts from the UAB Women & Infants Center and the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB to learn more about breast cancer and what we can do to detect and treat it. We are proud to partner with UAB Medicine, which was ranked No. 5 in the nation in obstetrics & gynecology by U.S. News & World Report 2022-2023 Best Hospitals List!

UAB’s Rachael Lancaster, MD graciously shared her time and expertise with us. Dr. Lancaster is a native of Alabama and has called Birmingham home for many years now. She completed medical school training and residency training at UAB and then completed her fellowship training specializing in Breast Surgical Oncology at the University of California, San Francisco. She then returned to UAB, where she specializes in breast surgery. She and her husband have three children who they adore. In her words,”Being a mother is an amazing gift and one that brings such joy to my life. As a working mother, I understand well the need for a strong supporting “village” as we navigate the challenges and successes of parenting and mothering. I am so thankful for the encouraging mamas in our city!” We are thankful to Dr. Lancaster for sharing her time and knowledge with BMC and our readers. Let’s get to our Q&A!

What made you decide to specialize in breast surgery?

Definitely, without a doubt the patients. Breast cancer patients and survivors are resilient and gracious. I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve this group of women while playing a part in their road to recovery. Being able to help a woman understand and navigate the complexities of breast cancer care and treatment options are an important part of my role as her breast surgeon.

What can/should women do to stay on top of their health when it comes to breast cancer?

Breast self awareness and mammograms! It is so important for a woman to be aware of any changes to her breast. Changes may include a new lump, changes in skin, nipple changes, and change in breast shape. While most breast cancers are detected by mammograms, many are detected by patients themselves. If a woman detects any of these changes, she should alert her doctor and have some breast imaging completed to evaluate these areas more closely. 

Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer and frequently, if performed regularly, detect breast cancers at an early stage. We recommend that the average risk woman start having mammograms yearly at the age of 40. If a woman is at an elevated risk for breast cancer, she may need to begin breast cancer screening at an earlier age or may need to have additional imaging completed as part of her breast cancer screening. 

Aside from family history, are there other factors that contribute to the likelihood of developing breast cancer?

Family history is very important. Certainly breast or ovarian cancers in one or more generations in a family, especially if those family members are diagnosed at an early age (age less than 50 years old), is a risk factor. Also there are other cancers that can be associated with breast cancer, such as colon cancer or pancreatic cancer. Other risk factors for breast cancer include a history of a previous breast biopsy, especially if the result showed atypical cells, increased breast density, and prolonged exposure to estrogen. If you are concerned about your risk for breast cancer, ask you doctor to help you calculate your breast cancer risk. There are several risk model calculators available. 

How do you determine if someone does have breast cancer?

woman getting a mammogram

If a woman has no symptoms or breast concerns, she undergoes a screening mammogram. If an area of concern is seen on a mammogram or if more imaging is needed, the woman is asked to come back for more dedicated breast imaging. If these areas are concerning enough, a biopsy will be performed to establish the diagnosis. However, if a woman has a breast symptom that is concerning, then she should alert her doctor. Typically her doctor will then recommend breast imaging to evaluate the area of concern. If the area of interest is concerning in appearance, then a biopsy would be recommended. If a biopsy is recommended, then it occurs with a needle device and rarely requires surgery at this juncture. Most frequently this biopsy is performed with image guidance. A biopsy result can diagnose a breast cancer or a benign condition of the breast.

Please remember that the majority of women who are called back for additional imaging after a screening mammogram will not need to undergo a biopsy. Of those who do require a biopsy in this setting, most of these biopsies will not show a cancer. I say this to remind ladies not to panic if they are requested to come back for more evaluation after a screening mammogram. 

What are the different types of breast cancer?

The two most common types of breast cancer are cancers arising from the breast ducts or breast lobular units. Breast cancers from the ducts of the breast are the most common. We now also describe the breast cancer by the types of receptors that the breast cancer cells express. This helps us know what treatments are needed to treat the differing kinds of breast cancer and tailor the treatment to the specific tumor type. 

What are the different treatment options?

Breast cancer treatment typically requires a combination of multiple therapies given by different doctors. Breast surgery is needed to remove the breast tumor, and a patient’s breast surgeon would discuss with her the different options for how this could be accomplished. Additionally, a medical oncologist is involved in breast cancer care. Generally speaking, the therapies that are recommended could involve hormone blocking therapy or chemotherapy, depending on the type of tumor a woman has. Also, a radiation oncologist is typically involved in breast cancer care and may need to discuss radiation therapy with a patient. We know that the combination of the different therapies from multiple doctors gives a woman with breast cancer the highest likelihood of cure.

What do you most want people to know about breast cancer?

There is hope! While a cancer diagnosis of any kind is scary, the outcomes after a breast cancer diagnosis are good. The majority of women go on to live full and normal lives after treatment. The treatments for breast cancer have evolved so much and continue to evolve. 

What is your number one piece of advice for breast cancer patients?

Find a “Team” you trust. You want the most up to date cancer recommendations given to you from doctors who specialize in breast cancer care and are providers you feel comfortable with. 



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