October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

  • Published
  • By Major Sheri Webb
  • 23rd Medical Group
The American Cancer Society estimates that 2.4 million women living in the U.S. have been diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. Excluding cancers of the skin, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among U.S. women, accounting for more than 1 in 4 cancers. 

An estimated 182,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American women during 2008. About 1,990 new cases of breast cancer are expected in men. 

What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a tumor that starts from cells of the breast. 

What Causes Breast Cancer?
While the exact cause of breast cancer is not fully known, we do know certain risk factors are linked to the disease. A risk factor increases a person's chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Some risk factors can be controlled, while others can't be changed. Since all women are at risk for breast cancer, you should be aware of what risk factors you can change in order to decrease your chance of breast cancer. 

Risk Factors You Cannot Change: Be aware of which apply to you.
· Female gender
· Age - over 50 years old
· Family or personal history of breast cancer
· Ethnicity: White women are more likely to get breast cancer, but African American women are more likely to die from this cancer.
· Early menstrual cycle: Starting your period before age 12.
· Late menopause: Beginning menopause after age 55. 

Risk Factors You Can Change: Lifestyle choices you can make.
· Reduce alcohol use
· Maintain a healthy weight
· Be more active
· Breastfeed your child/children
· Pregnancy* age: Have your first child before age 30.
· Talk to your doctor if you take hormones
*Women who don't have children are at increased risk for breast cancer. 

What Can I Do About Breast Cancer?
Finding breast cancer early is best for successful treatment. Screening mammograms look for cancer before a person has any symptoms. It can help find cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it is usually easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread. Practicing prevention through mammograms and breast self-exams are the best form of early detection. Follow these guidelines for better breast health:
· Women 20-39 years of age should do monthly breast self-exams and have a breast exam by a doctor every three years.
· Women 40 years of age and older should do monthly breast self-exams and have a yearly breast exam by a doctor, along with a mammogram.
· Women with a family history of breast cancer should talk to their doctor about starting mammograms earlier than age 40. 

What to Watch For
Lumps or tender breasts may be a sign of breast cancer. Do not delay making an appointment with your provider or women's health practitioner if you find:
· An area that is clearly different from any other area on either breast.
· A lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm that lasts through the menstrual cycle.
· A change in the size, shape or curve of the breast.
· A mass or lump, which may be as small as a pea.
· A change in the feel or look of the skin on the breast or areola (dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed).
· Sudden nipple discharge.
· Unusual swelling, warmth or redness of the skin on the breast or areola. 

For further information, please contact your primary care provider. To schedule an appointment at the 23rd Medical Group, please call 257-2778.