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Basic facts breast cancer

  • Breast cancer begins when healthy cells in the breast change and grow out of control, usually forming a mass called a tumor. 
  • Most breast cancers start in the ducts (part of the breast that drain milk from lobules to nipple) or the lobules (part of the breast where milk is produced)
  • Breast cancer is not a single disease, even among the same type of breast cancer. There are 3 main subtypes of breast cancer that are determined by doing specific tests on a sample of the tumor. 
  • Main types – ER/PR+; HER2+; TNBC
  • Breast cancer affects women from all races and backgrounds.
  • While breast cancer is more likely to impact older women, young women do get breast cancer. Breast cancer is young women is often more aggressive.
  • African American women tend to get breast cancer at a younger age, are more likely to get aggressive subtypes, and are diagnosed when the disease is at a later stage and may have spread.
  • Black women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than white women BUT they are more likely to die of the disease.

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Breast cancer screening Facts 

*Facts and figures are from the American College of Radiology, the Society of Breast Imaging, the American Congress  of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Cancer Society. All are listed on the JH Medicine info postcard given to patients.

  • 8 out of 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history.
  • Most cancers detected by mammography have no symptoms.
  • After age 40, an annual mammogram is the best tool for early detection.
  • Mammograms are either screening or diagnostic. Talk with your doctor about which type is right for you.
  • 3D Mammography has new features that improve the accuracy of breast cancer detection.
  • If you are under 40 but have a family history of breast cancer it is important to talk with your doctor about what types of screening, including 3D Mammography or MRI are right for you
  • To schedule your screening or diagnostic mammogram today call Johns Hopkins Imaging at 443.997.7237

 Breast cancer prevention

  • No woman should ever feel that she has caused her breast cancer
  • However, there are things women can do to reduce their risk of developing the disease.
  • Breast feeding your baby reduces your risk.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, nutritious diet and exercising regularly really does make a difference, in early adulthood and throughout your life.
  • Limiting alcohol is important. This applies to several types of cancer including breast.
  • YOU ARE AN EXPERT OF YOUR OWN BODY. If something is concerning you, keep asking until you get an answer. 

Clinical Trials Information: 

What are cancer clinical trials?

Clinical trials are research studies that involve people. They are completed to find new ways to improve the way cancer is prevented, diagnosed, and treated. All of the cancer treatments we have available today which have resulted in cancer patients living longer and having an improved quality of life are the result of past clinical trials and the people who were willing to participate in them.

Why is participating in clinical trials important?

Clinical trials happen in phases where researchers learn specific things about new treatments. With new drugs this finding out the safest way to give it, learning about side effects it might cause, and if the new treatment works better than the treatment we have available now. At each stage, there are more and more patients involved in order to answer these questions. Without patients willing to participate, the phases cannot be completed and there are delays in new treatments which might help many patients. 

Although many patients participate in cancer clinical trials, overall it is a small percentage of all adult cancer patients overall and of those, a small percentage are minorities. 

Why is minority (African American) participation in cancer clinical trials important?

We know there are difference in some disease and in some cancer types, in the populations which are affected whether in the number of people diagnosed, how they respond to certain treatments, or how long they live with those diagnosis. 

It is important that we have people of all different ages, races, and genders included in clinical trials so that we know as much about how they respond to new treatments, as we can before these treatments become the new standard treatments. We want all patient groups to benefit from advances clinical trials make possible.

Why are minority participation rates low? 

There are many reasons minority patients may not participate. Some of those reasons may be related to research studies that have taken place in the past such as the Tuskegee study. People remember that and it could make the idea of being part of a research study scary. However, we also know there are other reason, such as a lack of awareness about how research works or how participants are protected; there could be financial reasons; or it could be availability of clinical trials close to home. 

We do a great deal of work to identify these reasons so that we can address them and make participation possible.

How can patients and their families find clinical trials?

One of the best starting points is to have a conversation with their doctor. The doctor or the team of providers caring for them can offer a great deal of information about clinical trials in general but also whether or not there are clinical trials available to them at that point in time…and what requirement of participation are.

There is also information available on line. The National Institutes of Health has a website where thousands of research studies being done across the country can be searched. The website address is:

Also, for cancer clinical trials, the National Cancer Institute has a web page to find clinical trials. Their address is: 

Finally, the hospital where a patient may be receiving care, will also probably have information posted on their website, about clinical trials. For Johns Hopkins that address is: , from there, information about cancer clinical trials may be found by clicking on ‘research’

When should patients find out about clinical trials?

Clinical trials are a possible treatment option so it is important that patients talk to their doctor about them early in their care. As they move forward it is a conversation they should have often. It is a good idea to keep clinical trials in mind when patients are having discussions with their doctor about treatment options at any point in their care (the beginning or when there is a need to change the treatment plan).  

How does a patient decide if they want to join a clinical trial for treatment of their cancer?

The decision to take part in a clinical trial (or not) is very personal. Some patients will decide they want to participate for the very reasons that another decided they did not. It is for this reason I suggest asking a lot of questions and having lots of conversations with their doctor, family and friends. The final decision is the patient’s but he or she has to be comfortable with that decision. Also, they should keep in mind that for many patients an offer to participate in a clinical trial may not come just once. In fact at different points during a patients care, they may be offered participation in several different trials, they may feel some are a good fit for them and their family and others are not…and declining an offer to participate will not have a negative impact on their relationship with their doctor or the care they receive. 

Care Beyond the Medicine – Support Programs for Women and Their Families

  • Network of Patient navigators throughout the sites – individual attention to women of all ages and stages
  • Support groups and retreats for patients, survivors and those women living with metastatic disease (open to women being treated outside of Hopkins)
  • Specific programming tailored to the needs of young women
  • Genetic Counseling
  • Spiritual and Pastoral Care
  • Social Work- individual therapy and resource coordination
  • Palliative Care

Johns Hopkins Imaging   (443) 997-7237  or  Locations in Bethesda, Columbia, Green Spring Station, White Marsh, as well as the main hospital in East Baltimore and Bayview

Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Program  (410) 955-8964  Have you been diagnosed with breast cancer? Looking for comprehensive treatment and a team of world-renowned experts? A second opinion? We are here to care for you. Please contact us today.

Resources For Breast Cancer Awareness Month  was originally published on