October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is a health problem all women are at some risk for. October is breast cancer awareness month. It is serious health problem that women need to watch for and do monthly breast exams. In Ohio alone during 2005 the state of Ohio will report 9.670 new cases and more then 1,850 deaths will result from breast cancer. The American Cancer Society encourages monthly self breast exams for early detection.

Breast Cancer happens when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control and can then invade nearby tissues or spread throughout the body. Large collections of these out of control tissues are called tumors. However, some tumors are not really cancer because they cannot spread or threaten someone’s life. These are called benign tumors. The tumors that can spread throughout the body or invade nearby tissues are considered cancer and are called malignant tumors. Any of the types of tissue in the breast can form a cancer, but usually it comes from either the ducts or the glands. Because it may take months to years for a tumor to get large enough to feel in the breast, women are screened for tumors with mammograms, which can sometimes see the disease before it can be felt.

Breast cancer is the most common malignancy affecting women in North America and Europe. Every woman is at risk for breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American women behind lung cancer. The lifetime risk of any particular woman getting breast cancer is about 1 in 8 although the lifetime risk of dying from breast cancer is much lower at 1 in 28.

There are many factors in being at risk for breast cancer. Some you can do nothing about others you can change. Some factors that increase your risk of breast cancer that you cannot alter include being a woman, getting older, having a family history (having a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer doubles your risk), having a previous history of breast cancer, having had radiation therapy to the chest region, being Caucasian, getting your periods young (before 12 years old), having your menopause late (after 50 years old), never having children or having them when you are older than 30, and having a genetic mutation that increases your risk.

Certain factors which increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer can be altered including taking hormone replacement therapy (long term use of estrogens with progesterone for menopause symptoms slightly increases your risk), taking birth control pills (a very slight increased risk that disappears in women who have stopped them for over 10 years), not breastfeeding, drinking 2 to 5 alcoholic drinks a day, being overweight (especially after menopause), and not exercising. All of these modifiable risk factors are not nearly as important as gender, age, and family history, but they are things that a woman can control that may reduce her chances of developing a breast malignancy. Remember that all risk factors are based on probabilities, and even someone without any risk factors can still get breast cancer.

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of getting breast cancer. Scientists find that the more months a woman has breastfed during her lifetime, the lower her risk of breast cancer. One study suggests that the greatest protection occurs when a female infant is breastfed and grows up to breastfeed her own children. Unfortunately, it is still possible to get breast cancer, despite the protection of breastfeeding. Women of all ages still must check their breasts for changes and lumps and insist that their doctor takes their concerns seriously. While it is rare, a very small percentage of women develop breast cancer during lactation. Any concern should be brought to your health care provider.

It’s important for women of all ages to take proper steps in not only preventing breast cancer, but to live a strong healthy life. Women can help protect there health by following these steps: Performing monthly breast exams, getting a mammogram every one or two years after the age of 40, building a strong relationship with your doctor, discussing family history as well as your own risk factors with your doctor, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, if you smoke quit, if you drink alcohol do so in moderation, eat a healthy, balanced diet that is high in fiber and low in fat with plenty of fruits and vegetables and taking a daily multivitamin.

There are some signs to watch for unfortunately, the early stages of breast cancer may not have any symptoms. This is why it is important to follow screening recommendations. As a tumor grows in size, it can produce a variety of symptoms including: lump or thickening in the breast or underarm, change in size or shape of the breast, nipple discharge or nipple turning inward, redness or scaling of the skin or nipple, ridges or pitting of the breast skin If you experience these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer, but you need to be examined by a doctor.

Once a patient has been treated for breast cancer, they need to be closely followed for a recurrence. At first, you will have follow-up visits every 3-4 months. The longer you are free of disease, the less often you will have to go for checkups. After 5 years, you could see your doctor once a year. You should have a mammogram of the treated and untreated breasts every year. Because having had breast cancer is a risk factor for getting it again, having your mammograms done every year is extremely important. If you are taking Tamoxifen, it is important that you get a pelvic exam each year and report any abnormal vaginal bleeding to your doctor.

October is filled with many events such as festivals and Halloween but nothing is as important as Breast Cancer Awareness. Though October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness month we need to remember it all year long and do the monthly exams every month.

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