Breast Cancers Diagnosed Between Mammograms Are More Aggressive

A Lump in the Breast May Be a Sign

Unlike breast cancer detected during regular mammogram screenings, which can be too small to feel, IBC is more likely to show up as a noticeable lump in the breast or underarm, Dr. Peled says. By the time physical symptoms appear, IBCs have often grown to a more advanced stage.

In addition to a lump, other interval breast cancer symptoms may include:

  • Change in breast size or shape
  • Nipple changes
  • Redness or warmth
  • Skin dimpling or asymmetry of the breasts
  • Swelling or enlargement of one breast
  • Thickening of the breast skin

Who’s Most at Risk?

While anyone can develop IBC, certain risk factors make some people more prone to these fast-developing breast cancers. The study published in August 2021 in the European Journal of Radiology found that interval breast cancers most often happen in younger people with increased breast density.

Other risk factors, Dr. Gary notes, include:

  • Breast Density Dense breast tissue can make tumors difficult to see on mammograms.
  • Family History Having a family history of breast cancer increases your risk of IBC.
  • Lifetime Risk Factor A lifetime risk factor of breast cancer of more than 20 percent raises your chance of IBC.
  • Previous Breast Biopsies Having past breast biopsies that showed abnormal cells means you should be extra vigilant between mammograms.
  • Multiple Breast Cancers A personal history of multiple previous breast cancers increases your risk of IBC.
  • Genes Genetic mutations like BRCA1 or BRCA2 raise your overall breast cancer risk.

Additionally, considering a combination of factors, like breast density, body mass index, family history, and hormones, can better predict your interval breast cancer risk compared to only looking at breast density, according to a study published in July 2020 in the International Journal of Cancer.

Advocate for Your Own Breast Health

You can stay a step ahead of interval breast cancer with these tips straight from experts:

Know Your Breasts

Interval breast cancers can develop rapidly between mammograms, so practice breast self-awareness. With breast self-awareness, you don’t have to follow a strict method or schedule. Instead, become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. “If we feel for ‘normal,’ when that ‘normal’ changes or when something happens outside of that ‘normal,’ your hands are going to know,” Gary explains.

According to Gary, how your breasts feel during the first, middle, and end of your menstrual cycle can vary. So, it’s important to get to know your breasts at different times.

Understand Your Family History

This includes whether anyone in your family has had breast or ovarian cancer. Sharing this information with your healthcare providers is crucial since family history significantly impacts your risk.

Being aware of your family history and whether you’re at higher risk for IBC can help to advance the detection faster, Gary says.

Find Out if You Have Dense Breasts

Because they’re a risk factor of IBC, find out whether you have dense breasts. You can determine if you have dense breast tissue by checking your mammogram result letter. As of March 2023, new U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines require all mammogram facilities to report breast density information on mammogram results.

If your mammogram result letter notes you have dense breasts, discuss additional screening options, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound in addition to yearly mammograms, with your healthcare provider.

Use an Assessment Tool

There are tools available online, like the National Cancer Institute’s Breast Risk Assessment Tool, to calculate your lifetime risk of breast cancer. “In the U.S., if the lifetime risk of breast cancer using risk calculators (which take into account factors such as breast density and family history) is greater than 20 percent, the recommended screening plan is alternating MRIs and mammograms every six months,” Peled says.

Participate in Clinical Trials

Researchers are investigating how often women should be screened based on risk factors like family history, breast density, and genetic markers. Clinical trials, like the WISDOM Study, are for people who don’t have breast cancer, and when you participate, you play an important role in helping refine screening guidelines.

Know There’s Hope

IBCs can be challenging, but new developments in screening, diagnosis, and treatment are always happening. These advances bring hope for better identifying those at risk and improving treatments for those diagnosed.

If, in between your annual mammograms, you notice any changes in your breasts, communicate your concerns with your doctor so you can catch a potential diagnosis as early as possible and get the care you need.

Resources We Love

If you’re concerned about IBC, resources and breast cancer support are readily available.

American Cancer Society (ACS)

The ACS provides comprehensive resources on cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. On their website, you can also find information about clinical trials, lodging while undergoing cancer treatment, and peer support groups for patients and caregivers who need help coping with a cancer diagnosis.

This organization has resources for all things breast cancer. You can find educational resources tailored to where you are in your cancer journey, including information to help you understand your diagnosis and treatment. They also have an online community and discussion forum where you can ask questions and connect with others facing breast cancer.

If you’re looking for information focused on dense breasts, is a good start. This organization provides education about breast density risks through interactive tools, articles, videos, and advocacy. They also support higher-risk women through breast density awareness campaigns.

For those diagnosed with breast cancer, this organization provides information on living with the disease. They offer patient tools, brochures, and other resources related to breast density. They advocate for public policy changes around breast cancer screening guidelines and breast density reporting laws while supporting breast cancer research.

Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE)

Through this organization, people with genetic mutations, like BRCA, can connect with each other through discussion groups and message boards, and have access to educational materials. FORCE also offers tailored support groups, assistance accessing genetic counseling, and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ cancer community by promoting equal access to care.

The WISDOM Study

The WISDOM Study is a large research working to refine breast cancer screening guidelines. Their goal is to find a better way to improve early detection and save lives. This study is comparing the effectiveness of yearly mammograms versus a more personalized screening approach based on risk factors like breast density and family history.

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