Breast Care

What Is Breast Cancer?

Approximately 211,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be detected in the U.S. this year, and 39,800 women will die from the disease. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. About 70 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors.

Breast cancer begins when breast cells mutate and start to multiply at an abnormally fast pace, crowding out healthy tissue. The abnormal cells grow into a dense mass that may be visible on a mammogram, or that can be felt as a lump. Breast cancer typically starts in the ducts (passages through which milk travels to the nipple) or the lobules (areas where milk is produced). In about 80 percent of cases, a cancer is discovered after it has passed beyond the wall of the duct or lobule where it started. At this stage it's classified as invasive. If it has spread beyond the breast itself to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body, it's said to have metastasized. Early detection of breast cancer allows for the best chance of a full recovery, and the greatest availability of treatment options.

Breast Cancer Management

Mammograms detect almost 85 percent of breast tumors, and are a very important tool in fighting breast cancer. However, all women should also engage in regular clinical breast exams and breast self-exams. When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is 97 percent.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts' Breast Cancer Prevention Program

Making certain that our female members have access to regular mammography screenings is one of our highest priorities. At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, we follow screening guidelines that recommend all women begin receiving mammograms every 1 to 2 years between ages 40 and 49, annually between ages 50 and 69, and as recommended by their physician for women age 70 and older. We also strongly encourage women to have an annual clinical breast exam performed by their doctor, and to practice monthly breast self-exams (go to to view an illustrated guide).

To help increase our members' and physicians' awareness of, and participation in, regular mammography screening programs, we've developed a number of services. Members identified as overdue for receiving mammograms may receive a reminder phone call from us, or a reminder letter or postcard from their doctor. We also send members and physicians educational information on our current breast cancer screening guidelines, and provide a wealth of educational information both in print and online.

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