Dr. John G. West has been studying women's breasts for 33 years.
In his office, The Breast Link at the Breast Care and Imaging Center of Orange, Calif., he has twice diagnosed my separate cancers, a 7mm invasive ductal carcinoma on the right in 1994 and an 8mm one on the left in 2003.
Two "pieces of cake" in terms of breast cancer survival. "In 33 years there have been a lot of changes," he says.
"We are catching more and more cancers early, there are better survival rates, more breast conservation, fewer mastectomies, less radiation."
But there also are new challenges. Dr. West talked about the latest challenge and more.
Q. You have recently issued a public alert about cell phones?
A. To date, there have been no scientific studies suggesting that cell phones are associated with increased risk of developing breast cancer.
However, two recent cases have caused us to rethink our position on this issue.
The first case involves a 39-year-old woman who, for the past five years, put her cell phone in her bra to improve the connectivity with her Bluetooth headset. She felt warmth throughout her breast when she received calls but thought nothing about it until she felt a pain in the spot where she put her cell phone. She examined the area and felt a lump.
A subsequent mammogram and biopsy revealed it was an invasive breast cancer. She required a mastectomy and examination of the removed breast tissue showed five separate tumors in almost the exact distribution corresponding to the shape of the cell phone.
Q. That's scary, but does it signify a trend?
A. We were unaware of any similar case and concluded it was just an unusual experience. But a few weeks later, a second case occurred in a woman in her 50s who wore her cell phone in her bra for the past five years. A mammogram showed a cancer directly below the spot where she placed her cell phone.
Q. What does this prove?
A. These two cases could be an unusual coincidence. The most we can say is that the issue should be explored in more detail. I'm not saying the cell phones caused the breast cancers. I am saying that women should "Be Aware" of the possibility that such a risk might exist.
Q. You are asking other doctors and patients to share information with you?
A. You can contact us at beawarefoundation.org and we will share any updated information in the "Ask the Doctor" section of the Web site.
Q. You told me you think younger women may be more at risk?
A. They are greater users of cell phones. It's up to women to be aware and do everything they can to protect themselves. Women tell me they put the cell phones in their bras when they work out at the gym. Why not put the phone in their purse?
Keep cell phones away from the skin.
Even guys need to know they shouldn't put their phones in front pockets.
Instead, they should use a belt loop.
Q. But if you've been carrying the cell phone in your bra?
A. Remember, early detection of breast cancer means less invasive treatment. Be sure to have your annual mammogram.
Jane Glenn Haas writes for The Orange County (Calif.) Register.