Breast Cancer Awareness Q&A with Zheng Topp, M.D., Hematology Oncology, Baptist Medical Group – Hematology Oncology


Q: At what age should women start getting mammograms and how often? Has the recommendation changed over time?

A: It is controversial and expert groups do disagree on the optimal age to start. Personally, I am biased because I frequently do see women diagnosed via earlier mammograms. Per the American Cancer Society, the recommendation is for screening mammograms starting at age 45. For women aged 40 to 45, it is a shared decision between the patient and the physician in the risks and benefits of earlier screening (chance of earlier detection versus chances of false positives). The recommendations have evolved over time. American Cancer Society recommendations changed last year, as previously, the recommendation was for yearly mammograms starting at age 40.   

Q: Baptist Health Care offers 2-D and 3-D mammography – Explain the benefits of 3-D mammography.

A: 3-D mammogram (tomosynthesis) is performed in conjunction with a conventional mammogram and improves lesion characterization. So, this results in fewer biopsies and fewer false-positive biopsies while increasing rates of cancer detection. Baptist Health Care has offered quality 3-D mammography for five years at three convenient locations: Baptist Hospital, Gulf Breeze Hospital and Baptist Medical Park – Nine Mile. To learn more:

Q: How often should women perform self-exams?   

A: Actually, more recently, most medical organizations and expert groups do not recommend routine breast self-exams as a part of breast cancer screening. In studies, breast self-exams have not been shown to be effective in detecting cancer or improving survival for women who have breast cancer. However, I strongly feel that all women should be familiar with their own breasts, be aware of their own bodies and notify their physician if something does not look or feel right.

Q: What should I look for during a self-exam?   

A: To help increase your breast awareness, you use your eyes and hands to observe the look and feel of your breasts. You are looking for a lump that was not there before, nipple discharge or dimpling of the skin. Sometimes, breast cancer can present as what may look like a skin infection.

Q: What should I do if I find something unusual, like a lump? What steps should I take?   

A: Let your physician know. Your doctor will likely order imaging studies that will help give us more information about the lump. If imaging studies are suspicious, then a biopsy of the area is performed.

Q: What can I do today to reduce my risk for breast cancer in the future?

A: Exercise! The risk of breast cancer is reduced among physically active women. I recommend at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise. Breastfeeding has also been shown to be protective against breast cancer. Keeping a heart healthy diet, avoiding tobacco and limiting excess alcohol may help as well.

For more information about Dr. Topp or to schedule an appointment, visit or call 850.469.7975.


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