With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this dreaded disease.

More and more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer. Awareness and early detection are important. People have a lot of questions and concerns that they want to share with their physician. Sometimes they forget or are afraid to ask. Here are answers to some basic questions and concerns that most people have.

What are the common symptoms of breast cancer?

Any lump in the breast; swelling, redness, tenderness, or pain in the breast; enlarged lymph nodes; discharge from the nipple.Consult your doctor immediately if you notice any of these problems.

Must the breast be removed?

Due to the disfigurement that occurs from a mastectomy, this is a real fear and cause for concern. While the final decision lies with the treating physician, remember that lumpectomy, radiation, or mastectomy offer equal survival rates and the physician will be able to decide what is the best based on the individual patient.

What's the best treatment for breast cancer?

Experts agree that traditional treatments like lumpectomy, radiation or mastectomy give patients an equal chance of survival.

Lumpectomies avoid the disfigurement that comes with mastectomies. The doctor recommends the treatment that best suits each individual case. This may be followed by chemotherapy or hormonal agents.

What's this lump in my breast and should I be worried?

Most women notice a lump in their breasts at some time in their life. If you are regular with your monthly breast examinations, a lump will not take you by surprise and is not necessarily a cause for alarm. Eighty per cent of lumps are non-cancerous. Having said that, to be absolutely safe and to ensure that you are not in the 20 per cent range, your safest option would be to consult your doctor immediately, as he may want to perform a breast biopsy.

My mother, my sister, and my aunt are all breast cancer survivors. What are the chances I will get it too?

Typically one in 10 women inherits the abnormal gene for breast cancer. It is always best to talk to your doctor about any abnormalities.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemical substances are used in the treatment of cancer. These are administered either through the veins or as tablets. This is known as chemotherapy.

What are the guidelines for mammograms?

The American Cancer Society guidelines for mammograms are “yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.”

The writer is a Consultant Medical Oncologist and Visiting Consultant, Ironwood Cancer and Research Center, Phoenix, Arizona.