Cassell: A lumpectomy is used when breast cancer is found at its earliest stage. It's done like a biopsy, and you can leave the hospital that same day or overnight if we have to test the glands.
Most of these procedures are ambulatory and done under local anesthetic with a sedative. You're out the same day. Women are usually out of work for about a week to 10 days.
What about the effects of a mastectomy?
Cassell: A mastectomy takes a few weeks to come back from. Reconstruction adds more time, depending on how extensive the reconstruction is.
How long will it take to recover emotionally?
Cassell: It's important to keep in mind that every patient is different and has have to do what's best for them. Getting right back into the swing of things is the key to the recovery process.
For many patients, sitting home is terrifying. I tell my patients that when they leave the hospital, they are healthier than when they came in.
Many women feel as if their bodies betrayed them. There is no warning and no symptoms to breast cancer. Patients will tell me how well they care for themselves, and are angry that this has happened to them.
How important are mammograms?
Cassell: Mammograms are the gold standard, the baseline test. It will show what a sonogram won't.
A sonogram is a complementary test. If a breast is too dense or unclear for some reason, a doctor will order a sonogram for more information. The problem with sonograms is that they pick up a lot of things — cysts, lesions, etc. — that don't need treatment, but doctors see them and must take the next step to check them out.
Both tests are needed when there is a significant family history or when breast tissue is dense enough to cause the mammogram to be unclear. Your doctor should determine whether extra tests, a sonogram or even an MRI are needed.
When should we start getting mammograms?
Cassell: Women should start by age 40. If there's a strong family history, they should start earlier. A rule of thumb is to take the age their family member was diagnosed and start 10 years earlier (if mother diagnosed at 40, a daughter should start at 30).
What about self-exams?
Cassell: Of course, the most important thing is self-exams — this is when we find cancer at its earliest stage. Many women are uncertain what they are looking for, but should get comfortable with their own breasts and know how they usually feel. When something feels different, they should contact their doctor.
For more information on dealing with breast cancer check out breastcancer.org.