Dr. Marisa Gefen discusses breast cancer, preventive measures and the importance of mammograms – Metro Philadelphia

People worried about developing breast cancer should establish a strong relationship with their treating physician.

That’s one of the top tips from Dr. Marisa Gefen, who sees patients two days a week at Oak Street Health’s college town office. The rest of the time, she oversees the organization’s clinics in the Philadelphia and Rhode Island area.

Gefen spoke to Metro to answer common questions about breast cancer.

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When it comes to breast cancer, what are the signs? What should people pay attention to?

Most of the time, breast cancer will be diagnosed on a mammogram. So I think it’s really important for people to have a close relationship and an open and honest relationship with their primary care provider.

As for what they should look out for in themselves, there’s a lot of back and forth about whether or not breast self-exams really work. I just tell people to look for anything different. Really looking for everything that has changed on their body. Pay attention to lumps, bumps, pain and report them to their primary care physician.

You mentioned mammograms. When should women start getting regular mammograms?

There is a lot of controversy over what the right starting age is; however, there is generally some consensus that women are over 50, although some agencies will say over 40. And that’s for your average risk person. If you are high risk and many things can make you high risk, including a family history, you should discuss with your principal when you should start individually.

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Are there ways to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer?

Some of the things that will reduce the risk of breast cancer are decreasing your alcohol intake. We know that alcohol can increase your risk of breast cancer. And if you’ve had breast cancer, it can increase your risk of a recurrence.

Other things that can lower your risk are exercise and diet. Breast cancer is fueled by estrogen. When you have a lot of fat cells or adipose cells, you actually produce a lot of estrogen.

What are the most common types of breast cancer?

The most common type of breast cancer is called hormone receptor positive breast cancer. This is sensitive to estrogen and progesterone, which are particularly high female hormones of reproductive age.

Do you encounter any misconceptions among patients related to breast cancer?

That being diagnosed with breast cancer is a death sentence, because often it isn’t. Most of the time this is not the case. Over the years, we have really succeeded in reducing the number of treatments required by early stage breast cancer.

I think a misconception is that yearly mammograms are better than every other year. Because, in most cases, having a mammogram every two years is enough.

Why is that?

I think it’s mainly because breast cancer usually grows quite slowly. Only very aggressive breast cancers will grow significantly from year to year and in this case you will feel it.

I think there are a lot of false positives with breast cancer screening. Women with dense breasts and younger women will have more false positives.

Responses have been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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