Wear pink - early detection saves lives
By: Jessica Woodward, M.D.
October – and the color pink – have become symbols of breast cancer awareness. Even professional athletes wear pink to help the fight against breast cancer. And with good reason. The statistics show the impact of breast cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
• In 2015, it’s estimated that nearly 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer and more than 60,000 cases of non-invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S.
• More than 2.8 million women in the U.S. have a history of breast cancer. This includes women currently being treated and those who have finished treatment.
• Breast cancer causes more deaths in women in the U.S. than any other cancer except for lung cancer.
• Approximately 12 percent of women (about one in eight) will develop invasive breast cancer at some time during her life.
• About 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease.
• Breast cancer affects more women than men, but it is not a women’s only disease. A man’s lifetime risk is about one in 1,000.
There is some good news. Breast cancer incidence rates have been decreasing in the U.S. since 2000 and death rates have been dropping since 1989. These decreases are most likely due to treatment advances, earlier detection and increased awareness.
Early detection is key to conquering breast cancer. The earlier the cancer is found, the better the treatment outcome. The American Cancer Society’s guidelines for early breast cancer detection in women without symptoms include:
• Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) by a health professional every three years.
• Women age 40 and over should have a CBE every year, along with a mammogram.
• Breast self-examination is an option for women beginning in their 20s and continuing permanently or until a women is no longer able to complete the BSE.
If your physician determines you to be at high risk, it may be recommended that you get an MRI along with a mammogram annually beginning at age 30.
Certain factors increase the risk for breast cancer. Some of these can be changed, others cannot.
Risk factors that you can change include:
• Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight has been linked with breast cancer, especially after menopause.
• Increased physical activity. The American Cancer Society recommends engaging in 45 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days a week.
• The “D” word – diet. It’s unsure exactly what specific role diet plays in breast cancer, but it’s a good idea to eat lots of vegetables, fruit, low fat dairy and low fat proteins such as poultry and fish. Avoid eating an excess of red and processed meats.
• Avoid or limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol can limit the liver’s ability to control blood levels of estrogen, which can increase risk.
• Don’t smoke. It’s associated with a small increase in risk.
Risk factors you can’t control:
• Gender. Being a women is the most significant risk factor associated with breast cancer.
• Age. Risk grows as you grow older, from about one in 228 when you are in your 30s to one in 29 by age 60.
• Family or personal history. If you have a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) who has had breast cancer you could be at increased risk. Likewise, if you have a history of breast cancer, you are at continued risk for redeveloping the disease.
• Race. White women have a slightly higher risk than African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American women.
In its very early stages, breast cancer usually has no symptoms, but can be found through early detection. As the cancer progresses, symptoms may include:
• A lump in the breast or underarm that remains after your menstrual cycle. Lumps are usually painless, although some may cause a prickly sensation.
• Pain, tenderness or swelling in the breast or armpit.
• Any change in size, shape, texture or temperature of the breast or nipple.
• Unusual discharge from the nipple.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed here, you should make an appointment to see your health care provider.
October is breast cancer awareness month, and awareness is the first step toward conquering this disease that affects so many women (and men) each year. Early detection methods can often find breast cancer before it causes any symptoms (like a lump that can be felt). Your best bet in the fight against breast cancer is to follow the recommendations of the American Cancer Society for early detection and cancer screening. It’s the best course of action anyone can take to beat breast cancer.
Dr. Woodward is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.