Breast Cancer Awareness Month

  • Published
  • By Maj. Cassandra Campbell
  • 23rd Medical Group Women's Health nurse practitioner
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you're age 40 or older, you should be one of millions of women who get mammograms on a regular basis. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States other than skin cancer.

It is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. The estimated number of new cases of breast cancer in the United States for 2010 will be 207,090 for women and 1,970 for men. It is estimated that 39,840 women and 390 men will die from breast cancer this year alone.

While we do not know exactly what causes breast cancer, we do know that certain risk factors are linked to the disease. Having a risk factor or even several doesn't mean that a woman will get breast cancer. Some women who have one or more risk factors never get breast cancer and most women who do get breast cancer don't have any risk factors.

There are certain risk factors that you can't change. These include being a woman, your age, genetic risk factors (having the breast cancer gene), family history, personal history of breast cancer, race, dense breast tissue, certain noncancerous breast problems, menstrual cycles and early breast radiation.

Risk factors that you have some control over include: not having children or having them later in life, using post-menopausal hormone therapy, not breast feeding, use of alcohol, being overweight or obese, and finally, lack of exercise.

The American Cancer Society recommends that all women start having routine mammograms at age 40 and continue yearly for as long as a woman is in good health. If there is a strong family history of cancer, you should talk with your provider to determine if you should start your annual mammograms earlier than age 40.

Monthly breast self-exam and an annual clinical breast examination by a provider should begin about age 20. The most common signs of breast cancer are a lump in the breast, abnormal thickening of the breast, or a change in the shape or color of the breast. Finding a lump or change in your breast doesn't necessarily mean you have breast cancer. If you notice any changes to your breasts, consult a health care provider for a clinical breast exam.

Breast cancer occurs primarily in women, but men can also develop breast cancer. Although men have less breast tissue then women, they do have breast cells that can undergo cancerous changes. Male breast cancer makes up less than one percent of all cases of breast cancer and is usually detected in men between 60 to 70 years of age.

Breast cancer symptoms in men are similar to those in women, including a nipple that is facing inward, redness or scaling of the nipple or breast tissue, and nipple discharge. Once again, if you notice any changes to your breasts, consult a health care provider for a clinical breast exam.

For more information about mammograms and how to schedule your mammogram, please call the 23rd Medical Group Women's Health clinic at 229-257-7269.